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The Wicked Waltz

and Other
Scandalous Dances

Tap Roots: The Early History of Tap Dancing (McFarland, 2002)

The Tap Dance Dictionary (McFarland, 1998)
The Wicked Waltz
and Other
Scandalous Dances
Outrage at Couple Dancing
in the 19th and Early
20th Centuries


McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers

Jefferson, North Carolina, and London
Knowles, Mark, ¡954–
The wicked waltz and other scandalous dances : outrage at couple
dancing in the 19th and early 20th centuries / Mark A. Knowles.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 978-0-7864-3708-5
softcover : 50# alkaline paper

¡. Ballroom dancing — History —19th century. 2. Ballroom

dancing — History — 20th century. 3. Ballroom dancing — Social
aspects— History —19th century. 4. Ballroom dancing — Social
aspects— History — 20th century. I. Title.
GV1751.K66 2009 793.3' 3 — dc22 2008053221

British Library cataloguing data are available

©2009 Mark Knowles. All rights reserved

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form

or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying
or recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system,
without permission in writing from the publisher.

On the cover: Ballroom dance ©2009 Pictures Now;

ornate border and marble background ©2009 Shutterstock

Manufactured in the United States of America

McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers

Box 6¡¡, Je›erson, North Carolina 28640
To my sister,
Anne Knowles Snell,
with all my love and gratitude
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Many kind and talented people supported me in the writing of this book. The waltz sec-
tion of this book was written as part of my master’s thesis. I would like to thank the staff at
Antioch University, McGregor whose friendly advice and assistance made the process of get-
ting my degree a fulfilling experience. I would especially like to acknowledge my two faculty
advisors, Barry Cavin and Dan Reyes, who supported and encouraged me. I would also like to
thank the members of my committee, Lynn McMurrey, a man I greatly admire and loved talk-
ing with, and my committee chair, Dennis Castellano, a dear friend, who guided me through-
out the program with enthusiasm and integrity.
I was fortunate to have the very best instructors in my program. It was an honor to study
with Jon Saari. The research and reading I did with Larry Billman was instrumental in the writ-
ing of this thesis and I appreciate his help. Alex Romero was, as always, an inspiration. I was so
blessed to have him as a mentor and friend. I danced the waltz with Theresa Hayes at the Grand
Victorian Ball, as part of my studies. I’ll never forget that experience nor the help and constant
support she has always given me. She is an amazing woman and a brilliant educator whom I
admire and respect.
I was fortunate to be able to attend both the “Sonomama Improvisation as Life Practice,”
and the “Waltz Improvisation as Life Practice” workshops given by Cheryl Cutler, my first dance
teacher. To be able to return to the classroom to study with her was an answer to my prayers.
The work that she does with Randall Huntsberry is inspiring, and I will always be grateful for
the profound experiences I had studying with these two passionate individuals. The informa-
tion that I gained at the waltz workshop was especially pertinent to this book, and many of the
ideas and insights that I have written about were initially introduced in discussions with Ms.
Cutler and Dr. Huntsberry. I love these people and thank them for sharing their hearts with me
so freely.
The staff at the Huntington Library in San Marino was of great service, and the research
I did in the lovely surroundings of that institution was among the most pleasant times I spent
during the process of writing this book. Many other kind and capable librarians at libraries
around the country have also assisted me.
At La Salle High School in Pasadena, where I have had the honor of teaching for many years,
my research was aided by Kathleen Peck and Delia Swanner. The late Annie Johnston gave me
her copy of the MLA Handbook and always met me with a hug to ask how my book was com-
ing along. Pat Bonnacci, the principal of La Salle, awarded me a grant for further study which
allowed me to finish my Masters. Richard Grey and the staff and faculty have been kind and
supportive. My departmental chair, Jude Lucas, and my fellow dance teacher, Nancy Evans
Doede, have been especially understanding and helpful. My students at La Salle have kept me
young and passionate about dancing.
My students at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts/Hollywood were instrumental
in the inception of this book, and I will always think of them with fondness and gratitude. I
have shared a lot of waltzes and Charlestons with these talented young men and women. The

viii Acknowledgments

students at Occidental College and the University of California, Irvine patiently listened to my
ramblings as I was discovering new topics while writing this book, and asked many pertinent
questions that crystallized my thinking. Even my young tap students at Ballet Petit Performing
Arts Center in La Canada have kept me going.
My spiritual and my physical well-being has been guided by Dr. Asa Hershoff, Dr. Kevin
Michael, and Dr. Sailing Michael. They have kept me healthy and on track.
My friends have been there through this whole process. Alison England Sam kept me laugh-
ing and reminded me to trust. Rob Risko and Tom Robinson kept me company and kept me
sane. Tom provided great advice over many meals at Chipotle and also helped with computer
My partner of twenty-three years, Don Keller, believed in me, and loved me, and urged
me to express myself. Before he was ill, he proofread the first part of my manuscript, offered
editorial advice, and kept the computer up and running. He passed away during the writing of
this book, but he continued to be with me when I was able to return to writing. He was a rare
and precious gift in my life, and he is still my greatest teacher.
My mother and father inspired a love of learning in me from the start. They always
expressed interest in my ideas and treated even my craziest ideas with respect. They filled the
house with books and, more importantly, with love. I felt them over my shoulder as I wrote
this book. My siblings, Nancy, Rex, and Trudy, and their families, continue to love me, listen
to my ideas, and support me in all my endeavors. My sister Anne is my kindred spirit. She rec-
ognizes orchidity when she sees it, and knows when Little Men or Pride and Prejudice are called
for. We were “Masters buddies”— laughing, bouncing ideas off each another, seeing Blue Jacket,
racing to the lilac bush, and stressing out together. She proofread every page of this manuscript
twice. She gave me so much more than just suggestions and editorial advice. She gave me hope
and confidence and lots of love.
I love you all more than tongue-can-tell.

Acknowledgments vii
Preface 1

1 — Overview of Anti-Dance Sentiment 3

Part I. The Waltz

2 — Origins of the Waltz 17
3 — Development and Dispersion of the Waltz 26
4 — Fashion and Music of the Waltz 41
5 — Reaction to the Waltz 51

Part II. The Animal Dances

6 — Origins of the Animal Dances 61
7 — Development and Dispersion of the Animal Dances 67
8 — Fashion and Music of the Animal Dances 82
9 — Reaction to the Animal Dances 91

Part III. The Tango

10 — Origins of the Tango 105
11 — Development and Dispersion of the Tango 111
12 — Fashion and Music of the Tango 118
13 — Reaction to the Tango 124

Part IV. The Charleston

14 — Origins of the Charleston 135
15 — Development and Dispersion of the Charleston 142
16 — Fashion and Music of the Charleston 154
17 — Reaction to the Charleston 166

18 — Harmony and Disharmony 177

Chapter Notes 185

Bibliography 245
Index 259

Tell me now, Mother mine, are you willing to send
Your girl to the Pit for the demons to rend?
Well, if not, then beware of the lure of the DANCE.
There the Devil will catch her if given a chance.
Lulu Agnew Singer
(From “The Lure of the Dance”)

For the past fifteen years, I have been on the faculty at the American Academy of Dramatic
Arts in Hollywood, California. As part of the curriculum in my Movement for the Actor I & II,
I teach a Charleston and a Waltz. Besides learning the dances, my students are expected to
research the historical events, styles, fashions, slang, etiquette, and any other pertinent issues
of the period surrounding these two dances. As I watched these eager young actors dive into
their research, my own interest in the history of these social dances grew.
After the pleasurable experience of researching and writing my second book Tap Roots:
The Early History of Tap Dancing, I decided that fully researching the dances that I taught at
A.A.D.A. (as well as a few others) could be equally satisfying. I’ve been interested in anti-dance
literature for many years and have fed my e-bay addiction by trying to track down anti-dance
tracts and “No Dancing” signs. Above my bedroom door is one of my favorites—“No Ragtime
or Tango Dancing Allowed.” I knew it was time to write a book about this subject.
In 2001, after I had decided to earn my Masters in Visual and Performing Arts, I approached
my advisory committee with the idea of writing my thesis on social dancing and anti-dance
reaction to it. They readily agreed, but suggested I limit my writing to the Waltz. In 2003, I
completed my thesis, and the first part of this book was born. Family illnesses, the deaths of
loved ones, and a busy schedule teaching, directing, and choreographing prevented my finish-
ing the rest of the book until recently.
This book is not an attempt to teach people how to perform these dances. It is not a dance
manual. It is merely an effort to gather as much material as possible from many varied sources so
as to shed a little light on how these dances reflected their times and how society reacted to them.
The Wicked Waltz and Other Scandalous Dances opens with a brief overview of anti-dance
sentiment from around the fourth century up to the present day. It then focuses on couple
dances of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries— a period of widespread social, politi-
cal, and economic change. Around the world during this time, monarchies decayed and fell,
and a rapidly growing middle class emerged. With the growth of industrialization and free
enterprise, the focus on capitalism increased. These changes led to a disruption of established
class structures and a restructuring of society as more and more people moved into urban areas.
As cities grew, so did the sense of discontentment with traditional social values and the way
these values were expressed. Social dancing, as both a symptomatic and constitutive kinesthetic
expression, reflected this tumultuous period in history and revealed the shifting social ideolo-
gies of the day.
The first section of the book starts with an investigation of the history and development
of perhaps the most beloved and most maligned social dance to come out of this volatile period
in history — the waltz. Like other couple dances that swept the world, the waltz was surrounded
by controversy. It evoked indignant reactions from religious leaders and other self-appointed
arbiters of social morality who sermonized against the corrupting influence that social dancing
had upon the decency and health of those who danced. Anti-dance sentiment to the waltz grew
in direct proportion to its rising popularity.

2 Preface

In addition to exploring the cultural and historical roots of this couple dance and its sub-
sequent evolution, this book will examine the impact the waltz craze had upon fashion, music,
leisure time, and social reform. It will also give an overview of the violent opposition to the
dance and the proliferation and function of both anti-dance and courtesy literature.
The last three sections of the book will explore these same issues as they relate to other
dance crazes of the early twentieth century–Ragtime Dances (such as the Turkey Trot, Grizzly
Bear and Bunny Hug), the Tango, and the Charleston. The book concludes with a look at the
concepts of order and disorder as they are revealed through dance.
Social dances reflect the lifestyles, culture, and class of the people who perform them. It is
as if that particular period of history is somehow mirrored in a kick, a turn, or a twist of the
body. How society reacts to these dances likewise exposes the standards, beliefs and morals of
that era. At times, these reactions may seem humorous to us today. Sometimes, they are touch-
ing — sometimes shocking. They are always revealing.
It is my hope that in exploring the “wicked” waltz and other “scandalous” dances, this
book will give some insight into the fascinating periods of history in which these dances held
the world in their power.

Overview of Anti-Dance Sentiment

“The dance is a quagmire of wreckage. It’s as rotten as hell,”1 said evangelist Billy Sunday
summing up the belief of those who thought that dancing — whether the waltz, the turkey trot,
the tango, or the Charleston — was wicked.
People have criticized dancing as long as people have danced. They deemed it inappropri-
ate because it crossed boundaries of acceptable behavior for a certain class or gender; some-
times race was a factor. Critics warned that dancing was unhealthy, that it caused physical
debilitation. Furthermore, they called it frivolous— a waste of time and money that easily led
to financial ruin.
Perhaps, the most common attack was that dancing broke sexual taboos. One critic
observed, “Dancing is the perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire.”2 It led to tempta-
tion. It was indecent and immoral.
“Don’t go to that dance,” Bill Sunday warned. “It is the most damnable, low-down insti-
tution on the face of God’s earth.... It causes more ruin than anything this side of hell.”3

Early Antecedents of Anti-Dance Sentiment

Perhaps the most vociferous opponent to dancing in Western cultures has been the Chris-
tian Church. Church sanctions against dancing date to the fourth century. Although the prim-
itive Christian Church utilized dance in many of its services and accepted it as an important
sacred ritual,4 church leaders grew concerned when both sexes started to participate and “mixed”
dancing crept into certain practices. The hierarchy of the Church warned that holy rites were
corrupted by the inclusion of women who tempted male participants into licentious behavior.
Matters were further complicated because early church members believed that because humans
were created in the image of God, the devil was frightened away by the naked human body. In
the midst of the dance, therefore, celebrants often ripped off their clothes. Church leaders grew
increasingly concerned about the number of religious rituals that were deteriorating into sex-
ual orgies.
These leaders viewed the mixture of dancing and women as a dangerous combination. The
proof, they said, was in the Scriptures. Salome’s dance before King Herod led to the beheading
of John the Baptist. The Bible was explicitly clear. When women and dancing mixed, wicked-
ness resulted.
The Church made both women and dancing the targets of continual attacks in its attempts
to control behavior and regulate social conduct. These attacks were based on
two fundamental premises: first, dancing is evil because it is the work of the devil, who is ever
out to tempt the devout Christian to sin or forbidden behavior; and second, as inheritors of the
opprobrium of the creation story, women are the agents of the devil.5
The early church fathers launched vociferous attacks against dancing. St. Augustine was a

4 1— Overview of Anti-Dance Sentiment

particularly vocal opponent, although he reluctantly admitted that in certain controlled situa-
tions sacred dance could sometimes be appropriate. St. Chrysostom was not so forgiving. He
said, “For where there is a dance, there is also the Devil. For God has not given us our feet to
use in a shameful way but in order that we may walk in decency, not that we should dance like
In the Middle Ages, the first ecclesiastical summas, or penance books for confessors, were
issued. Used as a means to control the populace, these books defined sins in detail and pre-
scribed corresponding penances. Many contained admonishments against dancing. The Summa
Astensis, written in 1317 by Astesanus de Asti, stated “that watching the dancing ‘of lascivious
women’ can progress from venial to mortal sin if one studiously fixes attention on the dancers.”7
Furthermore, women “would be sinning mortally if they intended to incite themselves or oth-
ers to lust, or if they danced habitually, even though free of corrupt intention.”8 The Summa
Astensis was one of the first pieces of anti-dance material to detail three major themes that
would later run through subsequent anti-dance literature: the motive or intention of the dancers;
their frequency of participation in the dance; and the resulting effects or consequences of their
In 1429, the Destructorium Vitiorum, written by Fabritius, issued strong indictments against
the dance. This book remained extremely influential and popular throughout the fifteenth and
sixteenth centuries. In it, Fabritius stated,
The entring into the Processions of Dances, hinders men from ingress into the Heavenly proces-
sion; and those who Dance, offend against the Sacraments of the Church. First, against Baptism;
They break the Covenant which they made with God in Baptism; wherein they promised, to
renounce the Devil and his Pomps; but when they enter into the Dance, they go into the
Pompous Procession of the Devil.9
Fabritius reiterates another important theme among anti-dance critics— that the devil is
the originator of the dance.

Reaction in the Renaissance and Elizabethan Era

During the Renaissance there were two significant developments in social dancing: the
appearance of the first dance teachers and choreographers in the guise of professional dancing
masters, and the simultaneous advent of instructional dance manuals. These two advancements
brought with them the notion of dancing as a courtly art. With sufficient effort and training,
one could achieve grace. Dancing was blended with manners and proper behavior, and it was
generally believed that orderly movement was moral and disorderly movement was not. “Order
and morality went hand in hand with courtesy and polish on the dance floor.”10
Because hiring a dancing master or purchasing an instructional manual required money,
dancing ability became a means to distinguish social class. The writers of courtesy literature in
the Elizabethan period fostered this notion by reminding ladies and gentlemen that dancing
reflected the order of society and functioned best when there was a separation of social classes.
The powerful and the privileged should shun the disorderly dances of the common folk and
dance only proper, orderly dances appropriate to their rank. By doing so, they were not only
cultivating themselves, but also cultivating a better society. For a gentleman and a lady, proper
dancing was a civic duty.
Despite the fact that many in the Elizabethan era viewed orderly dancing as a means of
expressing moral, ethical behavior, many still denounced it as an evil, immoral pastime. Printed
in 1527, Henri Cornelius Agrippa’s Of Vanitie and uncertaintie of Artes and Sciences included
vitriolic denunciations against dancing. This influential book was reprinted and consulted as
1—Overview of Anti-Dance Sentiment 5

late as the eighteenth century. It introduced an important theme that became part of the battle
cry of future adversaries of the dance: dancing was a vain and idle pastime. It was an absurd
waste of time and energy, and those who participated in it were nothing more than strutting
peacocks. Agrippa concluded, “daûsing is the vilest vice of all.”11
During the Elizabethan period, opponents to dancing continued to warn of its sensual and
lascivious nature. John Calvin said dancing was nothing more than an “inticement to whore-
dom.”12 Detractors urged that those who refused to stop dancing should at least forswear fast,
excessive, and disorderly movements, especially because violent motions were associated with
drunkenness and debauchery. One should exercise control over the passions. Discrete, sober,
prudent, and restrained movement was required if one must dance. In the early 1500’s, Juan
Luis Vives, counselor to Catherine of Aragon at the court of Henry VII, wrote a book entitled
Instruction of a christian woman. In his book, Vives reiterated the typical warnings about danc-
ing: it incited lust and led to a loss of chastity. Vives particularly implored all virgins to avoid
dancing.13 He also voiced a practical and immediate concern — the hopping and shaking move-
ments in dancing caused extreme fatigue and therefore prevented dancers from going to church.14
Many denounced dancing because its movements were viewed as ridiculous. Proponents
argued that careful study with a dance master could remedy this problem. Others, such as Lam-
bert Daneau, a Reformed Church pastor and professor of theology, replied that taking time to study
unsightly movements was absurd and vain, and that a Christian had enough to do to resist the
world’s temptations without wasting time “studying the art of publicly making an ass of oneself.”15
During the mid to late 1500’s, the rise of Calvinism in England brought with it more vir-
ulent attacks against dancing. As tensions between Protestants and Catholics grew, objections
to dancing merged with objections to the doctrines and practices of the Catholic Church. Papists
were accused of supporting dancing, further proof of its wickedness. The anti-dance sentiment
of these Protestant reformers culminated in strong negative reactions to dancing by the Puri-
tans, who eventually brought these beliefs to America.

Opposition to Dancing in the United States

The first known anti-dance treatise written in the United States was Increase Mather’s “An
Arrow Against Profane and Promiscuous Dancing Drawn out of the Quiver of the Scriptures”
(1665).17 Mather was fervently opposed to members of the opposite sex dancing together. He
wrote, “But our question is concerning Gynecandrical Dancing, or that which is commonly
called Mixt or Promiscuous Dancing, viz. of Men and Women (be they elder or younger persons)
together: Now this we affirm to be utterly unlawful, and that it cannot be tolerated in such a
place as New-England, without great Sin.”17 Mather was also opposed to Maypole dancing and
wrote in a later tract, “It is an abominable shame, that any Persons in a land of such Light and
Purity as New-England has been, should have the Face to speak or think of practising so vile a
piece of Heathenism.”18 The theme of dancing as a heathen and barbaric practice would later
be used to justify attacks against the Charleston and ragtime dances, such as the turkey trot,
that were derived from African sources.19
Although dancing was not outlawed entirely in Puritan New England, several pieces of leg-
islation against dancing were enacted to curb civil disorder and prevent pagan practices. These
laws were strictly enforced. In 1641, a man named David Owls from Salem, Massachusetts, was
ordered to pay a fine of twenty shillings or spend time in the stocks for disorderly behavior when
he was caught dancing in his own home. In Connecticut, in 1678, white citizens were strictly
forbidden to attend any Native American dance ceremonies “because it encouraged the natives
in their ‘Divill worship.’”20
6 1— Overview of Anti-Dance Sentiment

At the end of the seventeenth century, Cotton Mather, son of Increase Mather, issued a
tract entitled “A Cloud of Witnesses; Darting out Light upon a Case, too Unseasonably made
Seasonable to be Discoursed on.” This booklet was specifically written to warn against the dan-
gers of dancing. In it, Mather addressed “People of Quality” and warned them that even if they
hired the most sober and modest dancing master to teach their children poise, they were still
going against Christian virtue and fostering vanity. Mather reiterated many of the typical themes
of prior anti-dance writers: dancing was aligned with the devil; it was a wasteful stewardship
of time and energy; it was vain and artificial; it was inappropriate for women; and of course, it
led to lust. Mather wrote in capital letters, “A CHRISTIAN OUGHT NOT TO BE AT A BALL.”21
During the eighteenth century, as urban areas in America expanded and more people immi-
grated to the United States seeking economic rather than religious freedom, opinions towards
dancing gradually shifted. New educational theories began to support the use of dance as a valid
method of learning grace and composure, and by the middle of the eighteenth century in New
England, it became increasingly popular to educate young ladies and gentlemen at schools in
the art of dancing. Social dancing was especially popular and prevalent in the Southern states
where members of the upper classes had both wealth and leisure time, and gravitated toward
more aristocratic forms of amusement.
In Virginia, dancing was viewed as a worthy form of recreation for the elite as well as
the servant and slave classes. Dancing was deemed a necessary ingredient in the education of
every gentleman and was used at such respected institutions as William and Mary College to
teach gentle manners and deportment. Balls were a common occurrence on plantations and in
Southern cities such as Richmond, Williamsburg, Savannah, and Charleston. Many influential
people, including Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, openly expressed their love of
Despite a more tolerant attitude towards dancing in the South, tensions still existed between
supporters and detractors. Oliver Hart, a Baptist minister in Charleston, published a sermon
entitled “Dancing Exploded.” He argued that dances were the work of the devil and that many
were “extremely immodest and, incentiveness to uncleaness.”22 They “murdered” time and also
represented frivolous stewardship of money. Hart warned parents that sending their children
to a dancing master was sinful because it wasted money that could have been used for charita-
ble purposes. He admonished, “Think how dreadful it will be to have the blood of your dear
children’s souls crying against you, in the day of judgement.”23
The dawning of the nineteenth century brought with it an increase in the popularity of
dancing as well as an increase in the number of anti-dance tracts. “As Americans struggled to
define themselves, tensions developed between European ideals for gentlemen and ladies, on
the one hand, and republican, as well as denominational, ideals for citizens and Christians, on
the other.”24 The role of women in dance was particularly in question and issues concerning
gender and beliefs about the rights of women elicited complex reactions. A deluge of American
anti-dance literature was written by white, Protestant, male evangelists and clergy who held
rigid traditionalist views about the roles of women in society. These men admonished women
that dancing always led to pernicious ends. Simultaneously, there was a growing number of books
on etiquette that offered conflicting advice about dancing, citing its value in teaching grace and
gentle deportment, and its ability to enhance one’s chances of advancing in society, and there-
fore, making a good match.25 As women’s issues became more prominent, a few female authors
joined the ranks of those who wrote about the evils of dance. The first woman to do so was
Hannah More, an Englishwoman whose writings on the subject were widely read in the United
States. She preached against the frivolity of dancing and attempted to expose the folly of fol-
lowing the dictates of polite society.
During the nineteenth century a new theme emerged in anti-dance literature — the idea
1—Overview of Anti-Dance Sentiment 7

“The Dance of Death” from the anti-dance book The Modern Dance by Jas. H. Brookes (date unknown).

that dancing was wrong because it ran counter to the intellect and dissipated the mind. Detrac-
tors argued that, as an idle pleasure, dancing offered no useful stimulation of the thinking fac-
ulties and was “merely a ‘mechanical art which requires but little exercise of the understanding,’
[and] proficiency in it indicates virtually no intellectual excellence or improved understand-
ing.”26 This concept was also expressed in writings that did not necessarily oppose dancing as
such. In St. Louis in 1888, for example, the Social Mirror stated,
8 1— Overview of Anti-Dance Sentiment

A young lady should not attend parties and balls while engaged in educational pursuits. The
proper serving of two such masters as learning and the gay world, is an utter impossibility, espe-
cially at the age of seventeen, when the fascinations of a ball possess charms that are never expe-
rienced in after years. Going to school is an old, well tried experience, going to a ball is a new
and delightful one, and it is not hard to tell which would engross the entire thought of a young
Opponents to dance concluded that since dancing did not improve the mind, it reflected
the lowest of human expressions and was really nothing more than base animal sensuality.
Therefore, according to the Bible, it was a “work of the flesh”— something that was strictly pro-
American perceptions regarding the use of money also evoked anti-dance sentiment. As
an entertainment, dancing provided no goods or services; therefore, the concepts of necessity
versus frivolity, work versus play, and stewardship versus waste came into play. Opponents to
dance railed against the wastefulness of dancing. Paying for dance lessons, or buying lavish ball
gowns and other dance-related paraphernalia was considered extravagant; money could better
be used to feed one’s family or help the poor. Tensions heightened between those who argued
that dancing played a necessary part of the lives of the ideal gentleman or lady, and those who
stated unequivocally that dancing had no part in the life of the ideal Christian.
The Second Great Awakening,28 which occurred during the first few decades of the nine-
teenth century, brought with it increasing ire against dancing as well as a new theme in anti-
dance literature — that dancing operated in direct opposition to the spirit of revivalism because
it excited and therefore misdirected the senses. Evangelist Charles Grandison Finney, a nation-
ally prominent revivalist, stated, “Diverting excitements, if strong and permanent, will prevent
a revival. Hence, it has always been the policy of Satan to keep the church, and if possible the
ministry, in a state of worldly excitement.”29
After the War of 1812, a growing dissatisfaction with European tastes and concepts led the

An early twentieth century postcard that pokes fun at the extravagance of dancing.
1—Overview of Anti-Dance Sentiment 9

American people to search for their own artistic expressions— ones that could express national
ideals in a uniquely American way. New forms of entertainment emerged that catered to the
tastes, needs, and desires of the common man and woman. The blackface minstrel show was
the most important entertainment form to result from this cultural process, becoming the pre-
eminent form of American entertainment for the major part of the nineteenth century. Min-
strelsy brought with it new rhythms and styles of dancing, as well as new reasons for dance
opponents to express their outrage.
White minstrels confiscated and then theatricalized African-American dances, bringing

This illustration found in Jas. H. Brookes’ anti-dance treatise The Modern Dance (189–?) suggests that
yielding to the temptation of dancing can lead to other transgressions such as drinking, gambling, and
attending the theatre.
10 1 — Overview of Anti-Dance Sentiment

about a synthesis of both white and black cultural elements. The new hybrid introduced many
important forms into theatrical dancing that were later absorbed into social dancing as well.
The use of syncopation, improvisation, poly-rhythmical body movements, and animal mim-
icry are just a few examples of the African-American influence upon popular social dances of
the time. Dance detractors strongly objected to these innovations because they were associated
with black culture, which was judged as primitive, savage, and sensual.30
In addition to the rise of minstrelsy, other “worldly” amusements became more accessible
to the American public at this time. Classical ballets were presented in major metropolitan areas
and European dance stars began touring the United States. Ballet star Fanny Essler31 had an
enormously successful two-year American tour that began in 1840. She was showered with
flowers, inundated with rave reviews, and met with adulation wherever she danced. Young male
admirers surrounded her in droves. Nightly, they unhitched the horses from her carriage and
pulled it themselves from the theatre back to her hotel. She was invited to dance at the White
House for President Martin Van Buren and was escorted around town by Van Buren’s son. Con-
gress even adjourned whenever she was in Washington in order to see her perform.
Conservative moralists were outraged at these improper displays. Minister and orator
Henry Ward Beecher heavily criticized the dancer. In 1843, he exclaimed, “We cannot pay for
honest loans, but we can pay Essler hundreds of thousands for being an airy sylph!”32 Ralph
Waldo Emerson on the other hand, called her dancing “religion.” Camps were divided. Oppo-
nents of dancing saw stage dancing as a perpetrator of vice and one of the “unfruitful works of
darkness,”33 whereas proponents saw it as a civilizing, cultural advancement.
During the first third of the nineteenth century, as the United States was seeking to estab-
lish its own identity as a republic independent of European ideals and manners, dance oppo-
nents latched on to a new theme in their attempts to ban social dancing. Dancing was unpatriotic.
They urged true Americans to shun the fancy clothes and courtly airs typically used at dances
and reminded them that by attending balls, they were not only imitating aristocratic behavior,
but also alienating and demoralizing other members of the democracy by spending money friv-
olously instead of helping their brothers in need. In 1828, one commentator remarked,
The Fancy ball has been a source of unparalleled aggravation to the poor, and cannot but arouse
them to a deeper sense of their own poverty, wretchedness and misery, thereby adding another
agonizing pang to their sufferings; and also reflect upon the conduct of those whose object it
should be to alleviate (as far as their power lies) their condition; instead of giving them new
cause to regret their deplorable fate.34
Those who opposed dancing declared that a true member of a democratic republic had a
social responsibility to help his fellow citizens. Spending time and money on idle pleasures such
as dancing was therefore not only wasteful, but also unpatriotic. Excessive, ostentatious displays
ran contrary to public spirit, and planted the seeds of disharmony, despair, and dissipation.
After the Civil War, a new theme was introduced into anti-dance literature that specifically
associated dancing with the evils of prostitution. A growing number of dance opponents pointed
out that most prostitutes attributed their downfall to having once attended a dance. One of the
classics of anti-dance literature, From the Ball-room to Hell, by T. A. Faulkner,35 claimed, “It is
a startling fact, but a fact nevertheless, that two-thirds of the girls who are ruined fall through
the influence of dancing.”36 The author argued that he himself had personally interviewed two
hundred prostitutes, and one hundred and sixty-eight of them swore that they were led into
prostitution because they attended a dancing school or went to a ball. He summed up his findings
by stating, “To close the doors of the brothel, close first the doors of the dancing school.”37
Faulkner’s From the Ball-room to Hell is the quintessential piece of anti-dance literature.
It utilizes many of the common themes found within the genre. The book warns that dancing
always results in ill health and ruined reputation; that it is a wasteful stewardship of time and
Showing that frequenting the dance hall can lead to unwanted pregnancy, this illustration carried the
caption “The tragic climax of this young life was not reached in one step, but led there by easy stages
through the fascination of the dance hall.” From From the Dance Hall to White Slavery; The World’s
Greatest Tragedy by H W. Lytle and John Dillon (1912).
12 1 — Overview of Anti-Dance Sentiment

money; and that it is an expression of the barbaric and uncivilized. The bottom line-dancing
is the work of the Devil who uses women to seduce men into lust. These themes and others were
used as cannon fodder to battle the sin of dancing.
With the rapid expansion of urban centers in the United States at the turn of the century
and the growing need for avenues of recreation, a new phenomenon appeared — the public dance
hall. Frequented by working men and women, these venues fostered an atmosphere of permis-
siveness where unchaperoned strangers met and danced together. Dance opponents saw them
as hotbeds of vice and launched sustained attacks against them. They stated, “The dance hall
is the nursery of the divorce courts, the training-ship of prostitution, and the graduation school
of infamy.”38
Critics cautioned that dance halls were used to snare unsuspecting women into the white
slave trade and lives of prostitution. Many books were written to expose the tragedy of inno-
cent women lost to sin in the dance hall. In Fighting the Traffic in Young Girls; or War on the
White Slave Trade, author Ernest Bell wrote, “One of the fascinating allurements of city life to
many young girls is the dance-hall, which is truly the ante-room to hell itself. Here indeed, is
the beginning of the white slave traffic in many instances.”39 Lester Bodine, superintendent of
compulsory education in Chicago said, “More girls enter the White Slaver’s mart through the
portals of the disorderly dance hall than through all other agencies.”40 An investigation by the
Municipal Vice Commission of Chicago reported that seventy-five percent of the city’s 5,000
prostitutes “attributed their downfall in a greater or lesser degree to the public dance hall.”41
Social activist Jane Addams, founder of Hull House in Chicago said, “The dance hall is a canker
that the community must eradicate to save its future generations.”42

This illustration, entitled “Dangerous Amusements — The Brilliant Entrance to Hell Itself,” contained
the caption “Young girls who have danced at home a little are attracted by the blazing lights, gaiety and
apparent happiness of the ‘dance halls,’ which in many instances lead to their downfall.” From Fight-
ing the Traffic in Young Girls or War on the White Slave Trade by Ernest A. Bell (1910).
1—Overview of Anti-Dance Sentiment 13

Critics warned that the dangers inherent in the lewd, grasping embrace of such dances as
the turkey trot, the grizzly bear, the bunny hug, and the tango were heightened in the contexts
of the public dance hall; and because most dance halls were connected with saloons, liquor
added to the menace. In the dance hall, unscrupulous men could ply unsuspecting women with
liquor, hug them close in a lewd manner, and trot or tango them around until they fell into the
devil’s snare.
As the world moved into the twentieth century, the syncopation of ragtime and jazz spawned
a host of new dances, highly charged with a wide array of both positive and negative percep-
tions. Animal dances stampeded across the globe, and so did opposition. Tangomania and the
Charleston craze evoked strong responses. Critics sneered at these dances’ questionable origins.
Moralists found their movements obscene. Many just thought they were downright awkward
and ugly. When reporter Tom Sims saw the Charleston for the first time, he described the move-
If you have a corn on eevry [sic] toe, put on some tight shoes some damp day and you are doing
the Charleston.... Watch dad when he gets the bill for wife’s fall hat. He will do a Charleston
step.... Don’t worry when the cook drops a plate. Take off your shoes and learn a Charleston step
on the pieces.... Ever stand on a red hot stove with a dozen eggs in your hand. It is a Charleston
step.... The Charleston was invented by some timid soul jumping from a snake and landing on a

When the jitterbug became the dance of the day, most critics were not so worried about
issues of morality as issues of safety. In 1939, the Fresno Herald reported that the Rainbow Ball-
room had enacted a ban on the dance. “Not only did it inflict bruises,” the owner of the danc-
ing establishment claimed, but “flying feet would also cut women’s stockings.”44
In the 1960’s concern about the twist elicited warnings from the Society of New Jersey Chi-
ropractors who called the dance “a potentially hazardous torque movement causing strains in
the lumbar and sacroiliac areas.”45 The home safety director for the Greater New York Safety
Council was more direct. She said, “Stop twisting!”46 Resistance to the twist also came from
those around the world
who saw the dance as sex-
ually suggestive. Igor Moi-
seyev, the director of the
well-known Russian folk-
dance troupe commented,
“[The twist] expresses dirty
feelings, dirty instincts,
and poverty of thought and
spirit.” 47 Some countries
banned the dance.
In the 1970’s the
“Disco Sucks” movement
was born. On April 30,
1979, the Penn State Daily
Collegian reported on a
campus protest of about
200 students calling them-
selves the LSD or “Let’s
Stop Disco.” They chanted
anti-disco slogans and Dance hall sign from the first decade of the twentieth century forbid-
smashed and burned disco ding the dancing of “freak dances.”
14 1 — Overview of Anti-Dance Sentiment

albums. One student who was interviewed stated, “Disco music’s one of the three major attacks
on American security along with paraquat and Ronald Reagan. It breeds mindlessness in the
leaders of future generations.”48 Two Chicago DJs organized “Disco Demolition Night” in
Comiskey Park in Chicago on July 12, 1979. In between a double-header between the White Sox
and Detroit Tigers, the crowd threw their disco records towards the infield like Frisbees and
shouted “Disco Sucks!” Several fires and small riots erupted and the baseball field was destroyed
in the process. The fracas got so out of hand, the White Sox forfeited the second game.
Opposition to dance continued into the 1980’s especially in certain fundamentalist groups.
In 1984, preachers in Mesquite, Texas, warned their listeners that “allowing dancing was just
one step on the road to topless waitresses.”49 “Dirty dancing” and the lambada were considered
too risqué by many when they became popular.
In the present day, many high schools ban freaking, grinding, and other dances that sim-
ulate the sex act. Some schools have equipped chaperones with flashlights to expose inappro-
priate movements, while others have eliminated school-sponsored dances entirely. In Los
Angeles, C-Walking, or Crip Walking was banned in most high schools because of its gang con-
So it has been throughout the history of social dancing and so, it seems, it will continue.
Critics complain. And, the dance goes on.
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Origins of the Waltz

Social dances shift from one trend to another as rapidly as society itself changes. As phys-
ical manifestations of how individuals interpret, emotionalize, and respond to their environ-
ment, these dances often challenge the status quo and are met with fear and resistance. This
response certainly greeted the most celebrated social dance of the late eighteenth and the nine-
teenth centuries: the waltz. Today this enduring social dance is considered elegant, restrained,
and sedate, but when it was first introduced, “genteel society was shocked by the intimacy
implied by the waltz’s embracing position.”1 Throughout its history, the waltz has been met
with the gamut of emotions from joy, pleasure, attraction, and obsession, to shock, indigna-
tion, hostility, and outrage. From its beginnings, the waltz was revolutionary.
Although its roots are somewhat obscure, dance historians believe the waltz probably
evolved out of either the sixteenth-century court dance called the volta, or the Austrian folk-
dance called the ländler.2

The Volta
The volta3 (lavolta) was part of a group of Renaissance court dances called galliards4— ener-
getic dances that utilized hops, turns, kicks, and jumps. Performed in triple meter, galliards served
as “after-dances” which traditionally followed slow, stately, processional pavanes.5 Popular
between 1550–1650, the volta was not only the most athletic and controversial of the galliards,
but also the only court dance of the period that was performed by a couple in a closed embrace.
When dancing the volta, partners held each other tightly and matched steps to heighten
the centrifugal force as they twirled around in a series of 3/4 turns. The dance’s signature move
was a leap in which the man lifted the woman into the air and spun her around before setting
her down again.
Done in six beats of music in 6/4 or 6/8 time, the footwork of the volta actually consisted
of only five steps, with one count held as the man lifted the woman into the air in the leaping
move called a caper.6 The dance was commonly known as the cinque pas, cinque-pace or five-
step.7 In England it was known as the sinky-pace, or the sink-a-pace. Popular in the Elizabethan
court, it was one of Queen Elizabeth’s favorite dances.8
The caper required precise execution. The man held his partner tightly around her waist,
and lifted her into the leap by placing one hand on her back and his other near her crotch, on
the bottom of her busk, a rigid piece of bone, wood, or metal that was used to stiffen the front
of the corset. Pivoting on one foot and revolving on his own axis, the man lifted his other knee
under the lady’s buttocks and propelled her into the air. The woman used her right hand to
press down on her partner’s shoulder and her left to hold down her skirt “lest the swirling air
should catch them and reveal her chemise or bare thigh.”9 In his book Orchésocraphie, first pub-
lished in 1589, French cleric and dance-manual author, Thoinot Arbeau,10 gave instructions for
the proper way to perform a volta. He wrote,

18 Part I. The Waltz

Early twentieth century postcard depicting Queen Elizabeth dancing the volta with the Earl of Leices-
ter. The queen is being lifted by her busk; her hands are positioned to prevent her skirts from flying
2—Origins of the Waltz 19

[I]f you wish to dance the lavolta (volta) ... you must place your right hand on the damsel’s back,
and the left below her bust, and, by pushing her with your right thigh beneath her buttocks, turn

Moralists of the day considered the dance shamelessly obscene because of the suggestive
embrace and the revealing glimpses of feminine leg, despite the woman’s attempts to keep her
flying skirts held down. In his tract, Gottseliger Tractat von dem ungottseligen Tantz in 1592,
Johan von Münster wrote,
In this dance the dancer with a leap takes the young lady — who also comes to him with a high
jump to the measure of the music — and grasps her in an unseemly place.... With horror I have
often seen this dance at the Royal Court of King Henry III in the year 1582, and together with
other honest persons have frequently been amazed that such a lewd and unchaste dance, in which
the King in person was first and foremost, should be officially permitted and publicly practiced.12

Johann Praetorius also denounced the volta in his book Blocksberg-Verrichtungen, (Prac-
tices of Witchcraft), which was published in 1668. He wrote,
a new galliard, the volta, [is] a foreign dance in which they seize each other in lewd places and
which was brought to France by conjurers from Italy.... [It is a] whirling dance full of scandalous,
beastly gestures and immodest movements.... [The volta] is also responsible for the misfortune
that innumerable murders and miscarriages are brought about by it.”13

One critic suggested that the volta “...should really be looked into by a well-ordered police force
and most strictly forbidden.”14
The vigorous movements of the volta were considered not only indecent, but also injuri-
ous to one’s health. In her book, Dancing Through Time, dance historian Allison Thompson
quotes one eyewitness who pointed out the hazards of dancing the volta. “Some haue broke
their legs with skipping, leaping, turning, and vawting.”15 She mentions an archbishop who
actually broke his neck while attempting the dance. It was so athletic that “elegant ladies of the
court needed to change their under-linen during an evening of court festivities which included
the vigorous volta (la volta).”16
The volta is believed to have originated in the Provençal courts of southeastern France
sometime during the late eleventh to twelfth centuries when troubadours were developing the
idea of courtly love.17 Thoinot Arbeau, who provided the clearest description of the dance,
stated that the volta began in Provence, but earlier records spoke of the dance as if it were Ital-
ian. The most probable explanation for this disparity is that the French version of the volta
migrated to the courts of Northern Italy and was introduced to other courts throughout Europe
when the Provençal troubadours18 fled southern France during the first two decades of the thir-
teenth century while trying to escape the slaughter of the Albigensian Crusades.19 It is likely
these troubadours took the volta with them as they searched for safety during those turbulent
Dance historians are confident that the volta was eventually brought back to France by way
of Italy when Catherine de Medici married into the French royal family in the sixteenth cen-
tury.20 Her love of dance and her use of French and Italian dancing masters to stage court enter-
tainments resulted in the popularization and documentation of the volta.
Introduced in Paris around 1556, the volta reached the pinnacle of its popularity during
the reign of Henri IV (1589–1610). It remained in vogue for about one hundred years, fading
out shortly after 1636. The dance was enjoyed by the aristocracy but was not often danced by
the common folk. There is conjecture among dance historians that Henri IV’s prudish son,
Louis XIII (1610–1613), who was heir to the French throne, considered the dance indelicate and
therefore forbade its use at court, bringing about the volta’s eventual demise.
By the beginning of the 1600’s, the volta had grown tamer and had lost its more athletic
20 Part I. The Waltz

qualities. Large steps and hops were transformed into smooth, polished glides. As with other
dances of this period, the volta became more subtle and dignified, following the smooth man-
ner, or “douce manier,” which became “the guiding principle of dance”21 during this time.
Curt Sachs, in his book World History of Dance, points out that as social dances began to
change during this time, there were also transformations in dance rhythms. In the first part of
the sixteenth century, most dances were performed in 4/4 time, the tourdion, galliard, and volta
being the only exceptions. Toward the end of the 1500’s, most court dances were altered to 3/4
time. Sachs suggests that these rhythmic changes were dictated by

the great inclination of the baroque to seek expression rather in breadth than in height. A visit to
any picture gallery will show that in the seventeenth-century rooms the broad form appears more
frequently than the high form, and that the fashions of this period are wide, full skirts, millstone
ruffs, and broad-brimmed Rembrandt hats. The new rhythm is essentially a manifestation of the
same tendency.22

The volta died out by the middle of the seventeenth century and by the eighteenth cen-
tury, its exuberant, lusty nature was replaced by the controlled codified formality of the min-

The Ländler
The ländler (länderer, länderli, länderische tanz) was one of several alpine, turning folk
dances that were popular in Germany, Bavaria, Austria and Bohemia. These couple dances, all
performed in a close embrace while rotating, were grouped together under the generic name
of Deutsche (deutsche Tänze) or “German dances.” Each type of dance was identified either by
the particular aspects of the dance such as the dreher (“spinning top”), weller, spinner (also
characterized by turning), or schleifer (sliding), or by a geographical location indicating where
the dance was most popular, such as the steirer from Styria or the ländler, which derived its
name from das Landl, meaning “the little country” referring to Landl ob der Enns, the name for
upper Austria.
The ländler originated as the last section of a dance called the schuhplattler. The schuh-
plattler, mentioned in Latin writings as early as 1000 A.D., came from the Tyrolian region in
Bavaria. It was part of a distinctive group of dances called “shoe clapping” dances, in which the
body was hit percussively to create highly complex syncopated rhythms. Dancers slapped their
thighs, knees, buttocks, feet, and cheeks, and hit the leather shorts they traditionally wore, using
every possible part of their own anatomy and at times even hitting the other dancers in an effort
to create unique sounds. These movements were derived from ancient animal dances and mim-
icked the mating or fighting of the native Bavarian black grouse. There were two basic versions
of the dance: one performed by two men, which symbolized the fighting of two birds, and the
second, a male/female version, in which the man imitated a strutting cock, wooing the woman
with his dancing.23 In this couple version, the woman played the demure hen, teasing but also
repulsing the man’s attentions. Although it was a couple dance, the two partners rarely touched
until the very end when the man finally won over the woman with his virtuosity, and they moved
together in the waltz-like ländler.
The earliest written reference to such a German courtship dance was in the year 1023 in a
poem by Ruodlieb, although couple dances certainly existed well before this date. In his poem,
Ruodlieb described how the man courted the woman during the dance, both partners imitat-
ing the movements of birds.
2—Origins of the Waltz 21

The young man jumps up, and towards him moves the girl,
He is like a falcon, and she glides like a swallow.
No sooner are they near to each other than they are already parted.
He tries to grasp her lovingly, but she flies away,
And no-one who watches this couple is able,
In dance, springing and gestures, to better it.24

During the ländler, the couple moved together in a slow waltz step. The dance was tradi-
tionally performed with the man’s hands on the woman’s waist and the woman’s hands on his
shoulders, although the dance contained other figures such as the lady twirling under the man’s
arm or swerving behind his back. The dance was performed to 3/4 time music, usually to the
accompaniment of singing or yodeling, or sometimes to the playing of a fiddle and alpine wind
instruments.25 The lilting melodies and use of wide leaping intervals in the music, especially
evident in yodeling, gave rise to deep swinging movements and lifts in the dance. As with the
signature movement of the volta, the climax of the original version of the ländler involved the
man tossing the woman vigorously in the air before bringing her gently back down to earth at
the end of the dance.26 Dance historians believe this leaping movement originally grew out of

This engraving shows the type of rambunctious couple dance that evolved into the waltz. “Dance of
German Peasants.” From A History of Dancing: From the Earliest Ages to Our Own Times by Gaston
Vuillier (1898).
22 Part I. The Waltz

ancient fertility rites and was used to implore the divine to bring a rich harvest. It was believed
that the height that the woman’s skirt reached as she leaped into the air determined the height
to which the corn crop would grow, and therefore, while performing the dance, the man
attempted to toss his partner as high as possible.
As with the volta, German folk dances such as the ländler were met with outrage and indig-
nation by the self-proclaimed arbiters of social morality. The close embrace and the rapid
turns that left limbs exposed and dancers dizzy were a constant source of controversy. As early
as 1404, in Ulm, a ban was imposed upon dancers to prevent them from such intimate con-
tact. It decreed that henceforth couples could only dance in single file. In 1494, Sebastian Brant
commented on the immoral nature of turning dances in his satirical poem Das Narrenschiff. He
There dance the priests and monks and laymen,
The cowl must also range behind;
And there they run and whirl about,
So that one sees their naked legs.27

As the Reformation swept Germany, the battle against immoral dancing reached unprece-
dented proportions.28 In 1543, clergyman Melchior Ambach published Von Tantzen/Vrtheil/Ausz
heilger Schrifft und den alten Christlichen Lerern gestalt. In it he wrote,” [Dance is] a surrender
to lust, a consent to vice, an encouragement to unchastity and a sport that offends all pious
persons.”29 An equally violent condemnation came from the Pastor at Schellenwalde, Florian
Daule von Fürstenberg, who wrote,
scandalous, shameless swinging, throwing, turning and allurements of the dance devils, so
swiftly and at great height, just as a farmer swings his flail, that the skirts of the damsels, lasses
and servant-girls sometimes fly above their girdles or even over their heads.... Those who delight
in seeing lewd things are very pleased at such swinging, falling and flying clothes, laugh and are
merry, for they see a very pleasant romantic view.30

Such protests led to several legal prohibitions. One restriction issued in 1554 declared, “In
the evening dances, every one shall refrain entirely from whirling and turning or throwing about
the damsel or dancer, and from dancing only in hose and doublet.”31 In Vienna, the city that
later became known as the center of the waltz craze, an ordinance was passed in 1572 which
Ladies and maidens are to compose themselves with chastity and modesty and the male persons
are to refrain from whirling and other such frivolities. Whichever man or fellow, woman or
maiden will turn immodestly in defiance of this prohibition and warning of the city fathers will
be brought to jail.32

As late as 1760, attempts were made to ban the ländler. Stern warnings were issued from
church pulpits against doing any “German waltzing dances” in the streets, and the bishops of
Wurzburg and Fulda issued decrees prohibiting gliding and waltzing. Despite such bans, the
waltz grew in popularity. In 1765, the author of Faust, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “then a
student at Strassburg, felt obliged to learn it, for without knowledge of this dance, it was impos-
sible to enter the highest social circles.”33
The evolution of German peasant dances owes much to the growth of the burgher middle
class in Germany. As market towns were developing in the eleventh century along important
trade routes, a class of affluent tradesmen began to emerge. By the twelfth century, these wealthy
members of society were controlling city affairs and by the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries,
were forming powerful guilds. These guilds began to take in members from the upper patrician
classes as well as tradesmen and farmers who were gaining in wealth. This middle class of
burghers helped the evolution of new cultural expressions during the High Middle Ages, includ-
2—Origins of the Waltz 23

ing new dance forms that combined the slow sedate processionals of the upper class with the
rustic, energetic turning dances of the peasants. Eventually the sedate parts became more ener-
getic and the turning dances became more refined. These new dances were disseminated through-
out Europe through trade-links, and the dances known as deutsche to the Germans came to be
known outside of Germany as allemandes.34 Allemande, meaning “German dance,” became a
generic term used to describe several types of dances that were popular from the fifteenth until
the nineteenth centuries. These dances were believed either to be of German origin or to at least
contain characteristics and qualities that were considered German. By the mid–eighteenth cen-
tury, the term was generally used to denote dances that were done in a close embrace. In 1762,
Italian ballet master Giovanni Gallini described such a dance.
The Germans have a dance called the Allemande, in which the men and women form a ring. Each
man holding his partner round the waist, makes her whirl round with almost inconceivable
rapidity: they dance in a grand circle, seeming to pursue one another: in the course of which they
execute several leaps, and some particularly pleasing steps, when they turn, but so very difficult
as to appear such even to professed dancers themselves. When this dance is performed by a
numerous company, it furnishes one of the most pleasing sights that can be imagined. 35

The term “allemande” was used in many different countries to describe a wide variety of
dance movements.36 One version, popular in Paris in the 1760’s and 1770’s, was characterized
by a series of interlaced hand positions.37 In this figure, which was later incorporated in many
contre-dances, partners moved past each other, passing under their joined hands and turning
behind their partner’s back. Vestiges of this version of the allemande are still part of American
square dancing vocabulary as the “allemand right,” or “grand right and left.”
Towards the middle of the 18th century, another word was brought into general use in ref-
erence to peasant spinning dances. The word, wälzen, meant “to revolve,” “to turn,” “to roll”
or “to wander,” and at first was only used as a descriptive verb.38 The word eventually began to
be used as a present participle describing the spinning movement. Finally, people began to use
wälzen as the name of the dance itself. The etymology of wälzen can be traced to the Old High
German walzan and the Old Norse velta that meant “to turn or to revolve.” Its roots come from
the Latin volvere, to turn around, and vertere, to turn.

The Use of Folk Dance by Aristocratic Society

Dance historians point out that the acceptance of folk dance forms by aristocratic society
was not unexpected or unusual in German culture. German nobility had used folk music and
folk dancing in court entertainments for centuries.39 Mosco Carner states in his book, The
The old Hapsburg monarchy was a feudal State in which the Emperor and the aristocracy owned
large estates all over the country. There was thus a close contact between the Austrian peasantry
and the ruling classes, and it was inevitable that the music and dances of the peasants should
have found their way into the Emperor’s palace and the rich mansions of Viennese society.40

The tradition of using folk themes in German court entertainments dates to the seven-
teenth century when the Emperor and his family, dressed in peasant garb, appeared in theatri-
cal productions and acted out scenes from peasant life. These dramatic scenes were interspersed
with folk songs and dances such as the ländler.41 The boisterous ländler, which had been danced
by peasants in heavy shoes and boots outside on the ground, was taken over and refined by the
nobility, who performed the movements in satin dancing slippers on the polished surface of the
drawing room floor.
24 Part I. The Waltz

“The Waltz in the Tyrol” after a lithograph. From A History of Dancing: From the Earliest Ages to Our
Own Times by Gaston Vuillier (1898).

Another factor that greatly influenced the acceptance of folk dance forms by the upper
classes in Germany and elsewhere was the publication in England of John Playford’s dance man-
ual, The Dancing Master,42 and the subsequent rise in popularity of English country dancing.
First introduced from England to France at the end of the seventeenth century, these country
dances spread to Germany soon after.
2—Origins of the Waltz 25

Playford’s collection of folk dances consisted of round dances, couple dances, and dances
for eight, but the majority were contre-dances that were usually performed in two facing lines
by several dancers. English contre-dancing43 defied the class-conscious artifice and formal tech-
nique of the minuet by introducing figures that intermixed dancers regardless of station. The
natural simplicity of the contre-dance steps revitalized social dancing which had stiffened into
complex fashion shows and conventionalized expressions of court etiquette44 with no physical
contact other than the slight touch of the fingers from a distance. The contre-dance’s demo-
cratic approach shattered the hierarchical rigidity of the minuet, and English contre-dancing
became all the rage in ballrooms across the Continent.45
In an effort to further utilize rural dances as source material, aristocratic society was soon
drawn to the energy, vigor, and heady eroticism of the closed couple German spinning dances.46
Eventually the waltz replaced contre-dancing in popularity in the parlors and drawing rooms
of the wealthy. In 1800, J. H. Katfuss wrote,
[The waltz] has now become such a general favourite and is so fashionable that no one can any
longer be reconciled to the English dance without it, for practically all English dances are usually
mixed with two turns of the waltz.47

The waltz was danced and accepted by all levels of society regardless of rank, pedigree, or
income.48 One Bavarian citizen of the period commented,
The people here are excessively fond of the pleasure of dancing; they need only hear the music of
a waltz to begin to caper, no matter where they are. The public dance floors are visited by all
classes; these are the places where ancestors and rank seem to be forgotten and aristocratic pride
laid aside. Here we see artisans, artists, merchants, councilors, barons, counts and excellencies
dancing together with waitresses, women of middle class, and ladies. Every stranger who stays
here for a while is infected by this dance malady.49

The waltz became so popular that in March 1792, the Journal des Luxas und der Moden
informed its readers that “waltzes and nothing but waltzes are now so much in fashion that at
dances nothing else is looked at; one need only be able to waltz, and all is well.”50 In 1797, a
journalist commented that the waltz “was as common and contagious as a cold in the head.”51

Development and Dispersion of the Waltz

The Romantic Movement

In order to fully understand the pervasive popularity of the waltz, it is necessary to exam-
ine this simple social dance in the context of an historical, ideological, and social perspective.
At the end of the eighteenth century, a social trend called the Romantic Movement rebelled
against the conventional rules, well-ordered symmetry, and emotional restraint that character-
ized the classicism of the previous era. The Romantic Movement placed emphasis on the spon-
taneous unpredictability of individual expression. Fostered by the egalitarian ideals of the French
Revolution, the primary tenets of Romanticism were
a return to nature and to the belief in the goodness of man. Most notably expressed by Jean
Jacques Rousseau — with the subsequent cult of “the noble savage,” attention to the “simple peas-
ant,” and admiration of the violently self-centered “hero”; the rediscovery of the artist as a
supremely individual creator; the exaltation of the senses and emotions over reason and

The Romantics believed that art was meant to educate, enlighten, and entertain the masses,
not just satisfy the privileged few. Social rank and status no longer dictated participation in the
creation or consumption of art. Artistic expression became linked with equality and social jus-
tice. Ruth Katz, in her article “The Egalitarian Waltz,” stated,
[Romanticism] enshrined the concept of the uniqueness of individual expression and the struggle
against the very principle of tradition, authority and rule. Whereas the pre-revolutionary middle
class saw art as one means of expressing identification with the aristocracy and aloofness from
the lower classes, in the post-revolutionary period it began to think of art as individualistic and
idiosyncratic, a “matter of taste” which might vary among different people, different times and
different places.2

Artistic expressions no longer had to be sanctioned and legitimized by royal patronage, or

validated by the aristocracy. As a rapidly growing middle class struggled to find its identity, art,
music, literature, and dance became ways to express rebellion against authority and establish
cultural independence.
On the dance floor, the influence of the Romantic Movement was expressed in several dif-
ferent ways. A revolt against the symmetrical formality of the minuet led to a passion for softer
curvilinear lines. For proponents of the dance during this period, “...angular lines were con-
demned and only curves were considered worthy of admiration.”3 In 1821, Thomas Wilson, a
prominent dancing master, wrote,
Straight lines are useful but not elegant; and, when applied to the Human Figure, are productive
of extremely ungraceful effect. With persons of taste, and true judges of beauty, the gently
flowing Serpentine and Curved Lines, form the acme of grace, and have always been considered
most beautiful.4

3—Development and Dispersion of the Waltz 27

Wilson recommended that dancers should be sure to remember that even presenting a
dropped glove to a lady, offering a dance card to be signed, or lifting one’s fan were opportuni-
ties to demonstrate grace and elegance by doing so with a curved arm.
The principles of Romanticism stressed that dancing was actually an expression of the qual-
ity of one’s soul, and therefore provided an opportunity to reveal one’s nobler sensibilities.
Grace, propriety, elegance, and simplicity were all attributes to be admired in the dance. Awk-
wardness, pretentiousness, and arrogance were looked upon with disdain.
The desire to rediscover the natural, unspoiled, and unaffected led the Romantics to look
towards the unembellished purity of by-gone days. They began to delve into their own tradi-
tional folk sources. Nationalism flourished.5 Folk songs became popular, and such peasant dances
as the ländler were in demand.
Although this Movement started in the middle classes, the ideals of Romanticism soon
began to spread to both a disintegrating aristocracy and an industrial lower class that was gain-
ing power. Barriers that had previously prevented the crossing of class lines were destroyed and
those of lower status were granted the same accessibility as those of impeccable pedigree.
The simplicity and freedom inherent in the waltz made it an ideal artistic expression for
this ideological milieu. The waltz did not require hours of meticulous study under the guid-
ance of a trained dancing master. Anyone could learn the few basic steps and be free to inter-
pret the dance as he or she saw fit. The waltz was truly a “revolutionary” dance that provided
all classes an opportunity to prove worth based upon skill, not upon rank in society. “The beau-
tiful commoner, if she waltzed very well, would be invited to dance with the prince.”6 The waltz
became the great equalizer.
The dancers surrender their worldly identities upon entering the “society of the dance” where
individuals take on new roles and where recognition is accorded not by virtue of one’s status in
the larger society, but by virtue of one’s performance in the dance.... The emphasis is on the par-
ticipation of all, and on the equality of all, while rewarding achievement within the dance itself
rather than status one brings to the dance from “the world outside.” 7

The Vienna Congress

The potency of the waltz as a symbol of a new society was reflected at the Vienna Con-
gress, held in the Austrian capital from September 1814 to June 1815. Over one hundred thou-
sand foreigners including six sovereigns and more than seven hundred diplomats, along with
their families, domestic staffs, secretariats, courtiers, and camp followers, descended upon
Vienna for one of the most important international political gatherings in the history of Europe.8
The Congress opened with a series of lavish balls and for the remainder of the assembly, the
waltz reigned supreme.
To foreigners not yet familiar with the new dance craze and its scandalously intimate
embrace, the impropriety of the waltz must have seemed intimidating. Yet despite these mis-
givings, representatives knew that to succeed in the delicate negotiations of the Vienna Con-
gress they had to participate in the endless round of balls and entertainments that dominated
the affair. Viscount Castlereagh, the foreign minister of Britain, hired a dancing master to teach
him the waltz and rehearsed with a chair as his partner when his wife wasn’t available.
As political intrigue and international rivalries stalled the critical business of dividing and
reapportioning Europe after the first defeat of Napoleon,9 competitions sprang up to ascertain
which governmental delegation could give the most lavish and impressive ball. Princess Cather-
ine Bagration, the mistress of the Russian Czar, arranged for a select gathering of only two hun-
dred of the most elite at her brilliant ball.10 The Emperor of Austria, Francis I, and his wife,
28 Part I. The Waltz

Maria Ludovica, hosted one memorable gathering at the palace for as many as ten thousand
guests.11 Although he had to raise taxes by fifty per cent in order to defray the cost of such lav-
ish entertainments, the Emperor and his wife continued to give balls at the Hof burg palace at
least once a week until Lent.12 The saying of the day became, “le Congrès ne marche pas, il danse,”
meaning “the Congress doesn’t advance, it dances.”13
The Vienna Congress provided perhaps the most effective propaganda for the waltz. The
dance spread rapidly through the Continent as the huge number of diplomats and their staff
returned home and carried the rage of Vienna back to the capitals of Europe.14 Despite many
vehement protests against it, the waltz was almost universally adopted by high society and its
conquest of the fashionable world was virtually guaranteed. The pervasive feeling among devo-
tees of the dance was “One need only be able to waltz and everything is all right.”15

Dancing Palaces
The waltz’s wide appeal led to the demand for appropriate dancing venues, and soon assem-
bly halls were converted into ballrooms, and new dancing palaces sprang up across the Conti-

A dancing master plays for a waltzing couple. The title of the engraving indicates the passion with
which society took to the new dance. “The Fashionable Mania,” after Carle Vernet. From A History of
Dancing: From the Earliest Ages to Our Own Times by Gaston Vuillier (1898).
3—Development and Dispersion of the Waltz 29

nent. Perhaps the most opulent were erected in the birthplace of the waltz — Vienna. The ball-
rooms there were unequaled in splendor and size, and “...the rivalry between these establish-
ments became so acute that audacious directors spent considerable sums on satisfying the taste
for luxury which they themselves had rashly aroused in their patrons.”16
The Mondschein Hall was one such famous ballroom.17 Used for dancing as early as 1772,
at first waltz parties at the Mondschein were prohibited by police because of the immodest
nature of the dance. Despite these early restrictions, the Mondschein eventually became one of
the most popular places for dancing during the height of the waltz craze in Vienna. Playwright
Adolph Bäuerle described a typical night of waltzing there.
The Mondschein Hall made an immortal name for itself by the mortality of young people danc-
ing nothing but the langaus [a frenzied two-step version of the waltz]. It was the fashion to be a
daring dancer. The man had to waltz his partner from one end of the hall to the other with the
greatest possible speed.... The circle had to be made six or eight times at a breathless pace with no
pause. Each couple tried to outdo the others, and it was no rare thing for an apoplexy of the
lungs to end the madness.18

The Sophia was named after the Archduchess Sophia and was first built as a Russian steam
bath. Later a swimming pool was added and then a magnificent ballroom and concert hall. The
ballroom was so large that police attempted to shut it down for fear the ceiling would collapse.
The owner, Franz Morawetz, petitioned the Emperor and received imperial permission to open
the dancing palace. The ceiling that had so worried authorities did cause a surprise at the first
waltz — it opened and thousands of rose petals were showered down upon the astonished
The Sperl,19 which opened in 1807, was another well-known dancing palace. The ballroom
there was so large that one end of the room was barely visible from the other. “At Sperl’s there
were soft rugs, palm trees, flowers, mirrors, a dining room ‘with many hundreds of candles,’ a
winter-garden, and a large park.”20 In 1833 Heinrich Laube wrote, “An evening and half the
night at Sperl’s is the key to Vienna’s sensuous life, which means Vienna’s life.”21 A venue for
many of the city’s most important balls, Joseph Lanner and Johann Strauss I often played there.22
The Sperl eventually became the artistic home of Strauss and the site where he premiered many
of his waltzes. Heinrich Laube, who frequented the establishment during the heyday of the
waltz, recounted his memories of an evening at Sperl’s.
In the middle of the garden on the orchestra platform there stands the modern hero of Austria, le
Napoléon Autricheien, the musical director, Johann Strauss. The Strauss waltzes are to the Vien-
nese what Napoleonic victories were to the French....23

The Tivoli Pleasure Gardens, which opened in September of 1830, was another popular
spot for waltzing. The gardens contained a spectacular colonnaded dancing pavilion that over-
looked all of Vienna. One of the added attractions at the Tivoli was a toboggan-like chute with
four tracks that allowed sixteen carriage-type cars mounted on sledges to speed excited patrons
up and down. Johann Strauss I wrote a waltz entitled the “Tivoli Slide Waltz” to commemorate
the roller coaster–like ride, and humorously featured in his music a sliding effect a few bars
before the coda. The popularity of the pleasure gardens led to such souvenirs as Tivoli hats,
Tivoli watches, and even Tivoli rockets.24
The Dianabad was originally an indoor swimming pool, the first such in all of Europe. Dur-
ing the winter months the pool was covered over with a large dancing floor. The Dianabad grew
more popular after the mid–nineteenth century as other more opulent dancing palaces had
closed. On February 13, 1867 the younger Johann Strauss premiered a number there sung by
the Vienna Men’s Choral Society. The waltz, although not a complete failure, did not meet with
the same public adulation that usually greeted the composer’s work. Strauss commented, “The
30 Part I. The Waltz

waltz was probably not catchy enough.”25 The piece, entitled The Blue Danube, later became
Strauss’ most famous and successful piece.
The largest and most magnificent pleasure dome was the Apollo Hall, the center of the waltz
craze in Vienna from 1808–1812.26 The Apollo had five large ballrooms and forty-four other pub-
lic rooms, in addition to three glasshouses, thirteen kitchens, an artificial waterfall, a lake with
live swans, and flowers and trees that bloomed year round. Everything in the Apollo was done
on a grand scale.27 One chandelier in the dining room held 5,000 candles. The musicians were
tastefully hidden so that as the elite of Vienna swirled around the floor, the melodic strains of
the waltz seemed to float down from the sky itself. Opened on January 10, 1808 to celebrate the
engagement of the Emperor Francis I to his third wife, Princess Maria Ludovica d’Este, the
Apollo Palace could accommodate up to 5,000 patrons.28 The entrance fee for the inaugural soirée
was 25 guilders, an exorbitant sum in those days. The dancing hall catered to the wealthiest cit-
izens of Vienna, and it was not unusual to see gentlemen there lighting their cigarettes with
hundred-guilder notes. There was no lack of willing dance partners at the luxurious Apollo Hall,
well known as the best place to find the highest-paid prostitutes.
Dances were also given at the imperial palace. At the Hof burg, when masquerade balls were
given each year at Carnival time, special birthing chambers were set aside for woman who were
pregnant but did not want to miss the chance to waltz. Irish singer Michael Kelly told of this
obsession to waltz in his book Reminiscences published in 1826. He wrote,
The people of Vienna were in my time dancing mad ... the propensity of the Vienna ladies for
dancing and going to carnival masquerades was so determined, that nothing was permitted to
interfere with their enjoyment of their favourite enjoyment — nay, so notorious was it that for the
sake of the ladies in the family way, who could not be persuaded to stay at home, there were
apartments prepared, with every convenience for their accouchement, should they be unfortu-
nately required.29

In the spring of 1832 alone, at least 200,000 people attended the several hundred balls that
were given in Vienna. This was half the population of the city, including infants and the eld-
erly. Tens of thousands more waited outside for hours just to watch attendees arrive.

The Waltz in England

Dance scholars conjecture that the waltz was first introduced in England around 1790, and
was regarded primarily as a country dance. Often inserted as an embellishment to contre-dances
or cotillions,30 this form of the waltz involved the intertwining of arms in the old allemande
style and did not yet utilize the embrace that later sparked such vehement reaction from the
more prudish elements of society. The closed position version of the waltz did not appear in
England until the second decade of the nineteenth century. The dance was probably brought
there by aristocrats who had traveled to the Continent, seen the latest fad during their travels,
and returned home to share it with their fellow members of society. In all likelihood, the English
waltz came by way of France,31 even though the two countries were at war with each other at
the time. The dance is first documented as being performed at Almack’s Assembly Rooms in
London around 1812.
At first the English were extremely reticent to accept the scandalous dance, yet “ the
course of time, the waltzing mania, having turned the heads of society in general, descended
to their feet, and the waltz was practiced in the morning in certain noble mansions in London
with unparalleled assiduity.”32
The dance only gained widespread public notoriety after one of the leading trendsetters of
London society, Countess Lieven, the wife of the Russian ambassador, created a huge sensation
3—Development and Dispersion of the Waltz 31

“A Ball Under the First Empire” after an engraving by Bosio in the Bibliothéque Nationale. From A
History of Dancing: From the Earliest Ages to Our Own Times by Gaston Vuillier (1898).

by dancing the German novelty at Almack’s in the summer of 1814 during festivities to cele-
brate Napoleon’s defeat.33

Almack’s Assembly Rooms

Almack’s was “the seventh heaven of the fashionable world”34 and the most exclusive gath-
ering place in London. All polite society aspired to be part of the entertainments there.35 Admis-
sion to balls was strictly regulated by a committee of seven women,36 who instituted the practice
of holding exclusive balls every Wednesday night during the Season.37 The women, Lady
Castlereagh, Lady Cowper, Lady Sefton, Mrs. Drummond-Burrell, Princess Esterhazy, Count-
ess Lieven, and Lady Jersey, who headed the council, maintained absolute control over the pro-
ceedings, including who would receive tickets to the grand affairs, what the attendees would
wear, what time the ball would start, and, for young ladies, who their dancing partners would
be. An introduction to one of the patronesses and her approbation was mandatory for any who
wished access to the ultra-fashionable establishment. Only a privileged few were admitted, and
the women made sure that Almack’s remained a place “into whose sanctum the sons of com-
merce never intrude.”38 Tickets were so hard to come by that three-fourths of English nobility
was denied entrance. In his memoir The Reminiscences and Recollections of Captain Gronow, the
Grenadier Guard reported,
Many diplomatic arts, much finesse, and a host of intrigues, were set in motion to get an invita-
tion to Almack’s. Very often persons whose rank and fortunes entitled them to entrée anywhere
32 Part I. The Waltz

else were excluded by the cliqueism of the lady patronesses; for the female government of
Almack’s was a pure despotism and subject to all the caprices of despotic rule: it is needless to
add that, like every other despotism, it was not innocent of abuses.39

The seven patronesses of Almack’s exercised stringent control and insisted that their every
rule was obeyed to the letter. They were so powerful in London society that even the Duke of
Wellington, the popular national hero who had vanquished Napoleon at Waterloo, was refused
admission on two separate occasions: once when he arrived in black trousers instead of knee
breeches, and once when he was seven minutes late to a ball.40
It is no wonder that the introduction of the waltz at the most exclusive venue in the city,
danced by Countess Lieven, one of the patronesses of Almack’s, guaranteed that all of London
would take notice. Although the waltz began to appear more frequently at balls in London
after being given the stamp of approval from the powerful and influential Madame de
Lieven,41 not all of England embraced the naughtily intoxicating dance. In the summer of 1816,
The Times commented with horror on the inclusion of a waltz at a ball given by the Prince
We remarked with pain that the indecent foreign dance called the “waltz” was introduced (we
believe for the first time) at the English Court on Friday last. This is a circumstance which ought
not to be passed over in silence. National morals depend on national habits: and it is quite
sufficient to cast one’s eyes on the voluptuous intertwining of the limbs and close compressure of
the bodies, in their dance, to see that it is indeed far removed from the modest reserve which
have hitherto been considered distinctive of English females. So long as this obscene display was
confined to prostitutes and adulteresses we did not think it deserving of notice; but now that it is
attempted to be forced upon the respectable classes of society by the evil example of their superi-
ors, we feel it a duty to warn every parent against exposing his daughter to so fatal a contagion....
We owe a due reference to superiors in rank, but we owe a higher duty to morality. We know not
how it happened (probably by recommendation of some worthless and ignorant French dancing
master) that so indecent a dance has now for the first time been exhibited at the English Court;
but the novelty is one deserving of severe reprobation, and we trust it will never be tolerated in
any moral English society.42

One particularly vocal opponent of the waltz was the Romantic poet, Lord Byron. In his
sarcastic poem “The Waltz; An Apostrophic Hymn,” published in 181643 under the pseudonym
Horace Hornem, Esq., Byron presents strong arguments against the waltz’s promiscuous nature.
Near the end of his poem he writes,
But ye — who never felt a single thought
For what our morals are to be, or ought;
Who wisely wish the charms you view to reap,
Say — would you make those beauties quite so cheap?
Hot from the hands promiscuously applied,
Round the slight waist, or down the glowing side,
Where were the rapture then to clasp the form
From this lewd grasp and lawless contact warm?44

Historians have conjectured that perhaps Lord Byron’s opposition to the waltz was also col-
ored by the fact that he was born with a clubfoot and was therefore unable to enjoy the dance
There were several proponents of the dance in England. Thomas Wilson, a dancing mas-
ter who wrote several popular dance manuals, strongly proclaimed the efficacy of the waltz.46
In his book, A Description of the Correct Manner of Waltzing,47 published in 1816, he reassured
his readers that the waltz was “generally admitted to be a great promoter of vigorous health and
productive of an hilarity of spirits.” He explained that the waltz, as danced in the cooler cli-
mate of England by persons with self-control, did not have the same “attitudes and movements”
3—Development and Dispersion of the Waltz 33

that made it questionable in “warmer and lighter climates.” Therefore, he declared, the English
waltz was “not an enemy of true morals.”48

Queen Victoria
In 1837, with the death of her uncle King William IV, eighteen-year-old Victoria Alexan-
drina was crowned Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, and Empress of India, thus ushering
in the period of history most associated with the waltz — the Victorian age.
In preparation for her future role in society, Victoria had received weekly lessons as a young
girl in the art of dancing. She attended her first public dance at age fourteen at a juvenile ball
given in honor of her birthday by her uncle the King at St. James’ Palace. Her dancing instruc-
tor, Madame Boudin, was present to guarantee that the young Princess made no mistakes.49
The princess continued regular dancing lessons and was thrilled at the age of sixteen when
her German cousins visited England because etiquette demanded that a princess only dance with
other members of royal blood. Victoria was finally able to practice her waltzing with a male
Two years later, Victoria’s coronation festivities included three State balls. The opening
ball had music provided by Johann Strauss himself, who composed a special waltz that included
the strains of “God Save the Queen.” The new Queen had to be content to watch while others
waltzed that evening. Even though the gathering comprised the aristocratic elite of London,
“there was still no arm fit to encircle the Queen’s waist in a waltz.”50 The celebrations surround-
ing Victoria’s ascension to the throne in 1837 and her marriage to Prince Albert51 a few years
later included a flurry of parties and balls. Costume balls were a particularly popular staple of

“A Group of Waltzers” from a print of the restoration period. From A History of Dancing: From the
Earliest Ages to Our Own Times by Gaston Vuillier (1898).
34 Part I. The Waltz

high society during this period, and elaborate disguises were used to add a sense of mystery
and excitement to an evening’s entertainment.52 Queen Victoria herself gave many fancy dress
balls. In 1842, she and her husband Prince Albert gave a Plantagenet Ball and the couple appeared
in costume as Queen Philippa and Edward III. Victoria wore a jeweled bodice studded in dia-
monds valued at over 60,000 pounds. She stayed in the ballroom dancing until quarter to three
in the morning. In 1845, the royal couple gave a Royal Costume Ball and guests were required
to arrive in outfits from the period between 1740–1750. In 1851, they held a Restoration Ball.
The Queen’s love of dancing sparked a renewed interest in dancing among the social elite
and created a favorable environment for the introduction of new dances. There was also a simul-
taneous surge in interest in the folk cultures of Central Europe, especially Poland. These forces
combined and soon a dance that had originated in Bohemia found its way to England via France.
This dance was the polka,53 and although for a while polka mania swept the world, it could not
replace the waltz in overall lasting popularity.54
Throughout her reign, Queen Victoria maintained a love of dancing, and it was said she
was especially enamored with the waltz. In particular, the Queen loved waltzing with her hus-
band Prince Albert who was recognized by all as an expert dancer. From the beginning of Vic-
toria’s long reign and during her idyllic marriage to the German Prince Albert, society witnessed
a growing trend towards sentimentality and an idealistic regard for women. It was a commonly
held belief during this period that only the pious, virtuous qualities of woman, in the form of
a wife, mother or sister, could overcome the baser qualities of indelicate, uncouth, insensitive
man. These ideas spilled over into the ballroom where it was believed that correct dancing and
proper etiquette allowed a woman to exert her influence over a man’s baser qualities. There was
a deluge of courtesy literature that suggested that dancing “develops the inherent power of the
female sex, when clothed with the polite accomplishments, to correct and reform ... restoring
man to his original dignity and usefulness”55
This Victorian sentimentality was also tempered by a strict view of morality; with the rise
of literature supporting the value of dancing, an equal number of tracts appeared denouncing
it as a breeding ground for improper passions and an opportunity for rash extravagance.

The Waltz in the United States

The waltz made its initial appearance in the United States around 1790, the same year it
was first seen in England, but as in England, it did not really gain the public’s full attention
until after the turn of the century. Some sources state that the waltz was first performed by
Lorenzo Papanti56 in 1834 at a demonstration given at Mrs. Harrison Gray Otis’ Beacon Hill
mansion in Boston, Massachusetts.57 According to some accounts, Boston society was shocked
by the “indecorous exhibition.”58 Papanti (sometimes spelled Papatino) was a successful danc-
ing master who taught the children of Boston’s elite. He was described as “a tall, skeleton thin,
fiery tempered Italian Count.”59 In Boston and the Boston Legend, Lucius Beebe states, “All good
Boston children went to Papanti’s, where his lean figure, glossy wig and elegant patent leather
dancing pumps, and above all his pointed fiddle-bow, used both as an instrument of correc-
tion and harmony, struck terror to all juvenile hearts.”60
Around the turn of the century, as the structure of society began to change, social danc-
ing in the United States began to evolve. Strongly influenced by an influx of French dancing
masters who fled to America after the French Revolution, new forms of dance, such as the con-
tre-dance, began to appear and older forms, such as the gavotte, minuet, and cotillion fell out
of vogue. By the mid–nineteenth century, the quadrille and the waltz had replaced the contre-
dance in popularity.
3—Development and Dispersion of the Waltz 35

Believed to be a depiction of Papanti’s Ballroom at 23 Tremont Street, in Boston. From the music cover
“Tremont Quadrilles,” Henry Prentiss publisher, no date.

Until the middle of the nineteenth century, standards for theatrical dancing and social
dancing were not separated into different categories. A person who studied social dancing with
a dancing master was classically trained in the ballet arts and learned specific, intricate chore-
ography for each dance. This type of training was reserved for the elite few who had enough
money and free time to take lessons; as a result, dancing masters prospered under the patron-
age of the wealthy. With the disruption of class structures during the nineteenth century, this
system changed and the dance teacher’s livelihood was threatened.
The growth of the mail order business and advancements in transportation, such as the
invention of the steamboat, and the rapid expansion of the railroad system, fostered widespread
dissemination of dance paraphernalia. Ready-made ball-gowns, shoes, ballroom decorations,
and dance manuals were now available to a wide cross-section of citizens. The growing acces-
sibility of printed instructional guides compounded the threat to the normal functions of a per-
sonal teacher.
In response, dancing masters searched for new ways to approach the teaching of dance.
Starting around 1840, American dance instructors began to realize that the rapidly growing
population in urban areas included a large middle-class that was not only seeking entertain-
ment, but also looking for ways to advance socially. Dance teachers saw promising commercial
opportunities in this expanding part of the population. They redirected their focus away from
the technical aspects of dancing, and they began to stress how dancing could be used as a civ-
36 Part I. The Waltz

ilizing and educational pastime. “To expand their clientele, dance teachers began to emphasize
the moral, physically corrective, and novel aspects of their arts ... [showing that] learning to
control the parts of the body was morally valuable....”61 Dancing masters now stressed that
proper protocol in tandem with sufficient training could create “morality in motion.”62
Dancing masters banded together to form professional trade groups that worked to cod-
ify social dance forms such as the waltz. These unions hoped that by setting uniform standards
they could insure a steady stream of future students who would need to be well-tutored in the
morally correct and proper styles.

Developments in American Social Dancing

In the United States, four important trends took place after the end of the Civil War that
influenced the development of social dancing. First, as mentioned earlier, dance teachers pro-
fessionalized, forming trade organizations to foster their cause. In 1879, The American Society of
Professors of Dancing was founded, and four years later, The American National Association
of Masters of Dancing, United States and Canada, was formed. A third trade organization, The
Western Association Normal School, Masters of Dancing, was founded in 1894. These groups pro-
vided an aura of acceptability and legitimacy to social dancing. Members worked hard to erad-
icate the onus attached to such dances as the waltz. They were largely responsible for the spread
of the dance in America and the eventual acceptance of the waltz as valid aesthetic expression.
The second trend was the introduction of physical education programs into public schools.
This innovation came about from an increasing interest in educational methods sparked by the
Chautaugua Movement.
Started in upstate New York in 1874 as an outgrowth of a proposal presented at a Methodist
Episcopal camp meeting, the Chautaugua Movement was a powerful forum for discussing and
improving educational principles and methods. The initial proposal, introduced by John Heyl
Vincent and Louis Miller, suggested that secular as well as religious instruction be included in
the summer Sunday school. This simple suggestion developed into an eight-week summer insti-
tute that offered courses in the arts and humanities and attracted thousands of participants.
The Chautauguans offered home study courses for those who could not attend in person,
and eventually the Movement grew to include community organizations across the country. The
Movement fostered educational reforms and sponsored a series of touring lectures by leading
artists, politicians, and authors. In 1886, the Chautaugua School of Physical Education was
founded by William G. Anderson, and provided courses to physical education teachers in a
codified and stylized movement curriculum. The Chautaugua Movement brought an increased
awareness of the healthful, moral benefits of dancing and helped to bring about the integration
of dance into the American educational system.
The third trend involved an increasing emphasis on the use of posture and gesture in the
study of elocution and a growing appreciation of physical expressions. These things were aided
by the introduction of the Delsarte System to America.
Created by French acting and singing teacher Françoise Delsarte (1811–1871), the Delsarte
System consisted of a set of rules and principles of dramatic gestures that coordinated the voice
with the body. Officially called “Applied Aesthetics,” the two basic cornerstones of Delsarte’s
philosophy were the Law of Correspondence and the Law of Trinity. The Law of Correspon-
dence stated, “ each spiritual function responds a function of the body; to each grand func-
tion of the body corresponds a spiritual act.” The Law of the Trinity in Delsarte’s own words
was, “...the unity of three things, each of which is essential to the other two, each co-existing
in time, co-penetrating in space, and co-operative in motion.”63
3—Development and Dispersion of the Waltz 37

“The Waltz” after Gavarni. From A History of Dancing: From the Earliest Ages to Our Own Times by
Gaston Vuillier (1898).
38 Part I. The Waltz

The Delsartian System was introduced to America by Steele MacKaye, who added exer-
cises of his own that he called “Harmonic Gymnastics.”64 The popularity of these exercises
quickly spread across the United States, and a growing number of Americans began advocating
their use as a means to improve one’s health and posture, and add to one’s natural grace.
In the 1890’s, many women’s colleges offered classes in Delsarte’s techniques, paving the
way for the inclusion of dancing as a part of their curriculum as well. More and more, the mod-
ern woman of the day was expected to put on her bloomers and improve herself by learning
Aesthetic movement.
When Delsarte’s teachings were all the rage in the United States, a host of products bear-
ing his name came out including Delsarte corsets, Delsarte cosmetics, Delsarte gowns, and even
a Delsarte wooden leg. The System had many followers, including Emma Dennis, mother of
modern dance pioneer, Ruth St. Denis. Modern dance icon Ted Shawn suggests that the prin-
ciples of Delsarte underlie all of American modern dance.
The last trend to influence social dancing in nineteenth century America was a revival of
nostalgic dances and a renewed interest in dances from other countries. A growing apprecia-
tion of America as a melting pot of cultures led many educational reformers to advocate the
teaching of folk and national dances in schools. Dance was legitimized as it was included in the
American educational system. This acceptance sparked a renaissance in social dancing. More
and more Americans began to see dance as a viable form of emotional and interpretive expres-
sion.65 The cries of critics remained unabated, but the popularity of social dancing continued
to grow.
As Americans struggled to establish a national identity and create national norms, cultural
stereotypes resulted which emphasized correct outward displays of the body. Conformity to these
notions in dress, manner, and attitude was seen as a sign of good character; deviation from them
was seen as uncouth and improper. Controlled body movements were prized as attributes of a
civilized, moral person.
Physical expressions of moral lessons were also acted out in real life by assigning body move-
ments certain cultural meaning. Restrictions of movements (such as that between the rib cage
and pelvis, thus presenting the torso as a single unit) and the rigid prescription of gender roles
(for example, stereotypical ways that men physically displayed strength and independence and
that women exhibited dependency) affected how dancing was perceived and to be performed.
Clothing proper to the occasion of dancing supported preferred body movement patterns.66

The Boston Waltz

One version of the waltz that became particularly associated with the United States was
the Boston Waltz,67 or Boston Dip, a popular form of the valse à deux.68 During the Boston Waltz,
dancers did a slight dip or plié and then held the second and third beats of the measure. Promi-
nent dancing instructor, Melvin Ballou Gilbert explained the beginnings of the dance:
[The Dip] was originated by the late Russ B. Walker, in December 1870, and christened “Glissade
Waltz.” Harvard men were among its first patrons, and directly it was called the “Cambridge
Waltz,” and retained it soubriquet during its first season. The sinking or dipping movement
accompanied the forward and backward step in each measure, and shortly after its popularity
became established, extreme dipping became general, being carried to that extent which savored
of vulgarity....69

In his book The Boston Dip, published in 1871, Fred W. Loring reported his impression of
the dance in verse form. He wrote,
3—Development and Dispersion of the Waltz 39

An early twentieth century Italian postcard by Giovanni Nanni entitled “Valse Boston.”
40 Part I. The Waltz

The progress of society

Is ever on the stride;
Bar-rooms are generally closed,
Policemen have no pride;
And though we have not reached the point
When bolts are laid aside,
Yet the giddy and immoral waltz
Has ceased fore’er to glide.
No more do dancers float along,
They frantically skip;
They tumble as if sick upon
A very buoyant ship;
The gentle clasp around the waist
Has now become a grip,
And round and round the couples bob, —
It is the Boston Dip.
One way to dance it thoroughly
Is much champagne to sip;
Or, — rub your boots with orange peel
Till they are sure to slip;
Or, — imitate a horse
When startled by a whip, —
In all these ways you’ll meet success,
When you attempt the Dip.70

Even though most professional dancing masters thought the Boston Dip somewhat vul-
gar, and not true waltzing,71 they realized that the majority of the American public found it
irresistible. In the January, 1898 issue of The Director, the editors commented, “The Dip still
continues to be popular, and a refusal, on the part of a dancing master, to properly teach it,
resembles a case of a man ‘biting off his nose to spite his face.’”72
The Boston Dip is credited with being the first waltz performed with parallel feet, a depar-
ture from the balletic turnout that had characterized all other prior styles of formal social danc-
ing. The turning in of the feet and the constant dipping were significant innovations in social
dancing, and foreshadowed ragtime dances like the turkey trot and bunny hug that later became
the rage during the first decades of the twentieth century. However, because the Boston stopped
the flow of traffic on the dance floor and also took up more space, it eventually faded from the
spotlight and most Victorian dancers returned to the original Viennese valse à trois temps.

Fashion and Music of the Waltz

During a century of waltzing, ladies’ fashions changed frequently from decade to decade.
Fashion magazines from Paris, as well as books on etiquette and deportment, clearly defined
what to wear, when to wear it, and the vital importance of dressing correctly. Strict adherence
to the rules of style reinforced a person’s place in the social structure.
While the Vienna Congress was being held, the fashion of the day dictated that women
wear gowns made of thin, gauzy material that clung to the body. These diaphanous, form-
fitting, columnar dresses were gathered under the breasts in the French Empire style and were
often slit up to the thigh with only the thinnest shifts underneath them. Following the Roman-
tic aesthetic, dancing dresses presented a natural, casual look to underscore the delicate, fem-
inine qualities of a woman. Freed from the constraint of panniers and the heavy formal costumes
of the previous century, these new styles allowed much greater freedom on the dance floor.
Although fashions during the first two decades of the nineteenth century were designed to
imitate the flowing drapery of Greek or Roman statues, most women continued the practice of
wearing corsets to assist them in achieving a thinner silhouette. Many of the ankle-length gowns
of this period still had trains or demi-trains, but etiquette books of the day discouraged them
for dancing dresses because they were “too cumbrous an appendage to dance.”1
Despite the apparent simplicity of such ball-gowns, the actual cost of these garments and
the jewels that adorned them was enormous. Viennese dressmakers scrambled to provide a
seemingly endless supply of new outfits as the Congress progressed; even the very wealthy
became concerned about the extravagance. One police agent who reported on the proceedings
commented, “Ladies cannot manage on their ordinary budgets, and husbands are already
reduced to adding another sizable deficit to their accounts.”2
For men during this period, trousers gradually replaced knee breeches except at official court
functions— an innovation that afforded greater freedom of movement on the dance floor.3 Men’s
fashions remained fairly static through the remainder of the century with only minor alterations
in form, although gentlemen were expected to follow the latest dictates of style however sub-
tle. In 1836, The Laws of Etiquette stressed the importance of dressing properly, warning gen-
tlemen that they must be careful to avoid any faux pas when dressing. The author advised his
readers, “Before going to a ball or party it is not sufficient that you consult your mirror twenty
times. You must be personally inspected by your servant or a friend.”4
In the first decades of the nineteenth century, wigs were abandoned in favor of natural hair,
carefully and meticulously modeled after Greek or Roman hairstyles. For both men and women,
footwear became lighter with lower, less precarious heels. Most women’s shoes for the first two
decades of the century were flat and made out of satin, silk, or soft, supple leather. A consci-
entious lady often took extra pairs of slippers with her to a ball because the first pair rarely sur-
vived much dancing. One etiquette manual of the day reminded readers, “the massacre of one’s
shoes had to be borne with stoicism.”5 When the Empress Josephine discovered a hole in one
of her dancing slippers after only one wearing and complained to her shoemaker, he responded,
“Ah I see what the problem is, Madame, you have walked in them.”6

42 Part I. The Waltz

From the 1820’s to the 1830’s, the waistlines of women’s dresses gradually dropped; skirts
became fuller and longer with numerous petticoats underneath; and large commodious sleeves
were attached to a form-fitting bodice. Women wore short, heavily boned corsets that cinched
the waist tightly. As the 1830’s moved into the 1840’s, a growing number of etiquette books
warned of the dangers of lacing one’s corset too tightly.7 The Art of Good Behavior (1845) stated,
“No woman who laces tight can have good shoulders, a straight spine, good lungs, sweet breath
or is fit to be wife or mother.”8 One Englishman commenting on the current fashions wrote,
The Parisian fashions of the day are carried out to their extreme, detestably ugly as they are.
Really the modern European (and American) costume gives a woman the appearance of some-
thing between a trussed fowl and an hour-glass ... she is compressed in the waist, and puffed out
above and below it, to such an extreme that one expects her to break off in the middle at the
slightest touch.9

As the nineteenth century reached its midpoint, skirts continued to increase in size with
several stiffened petticoats underneath providing a bell-like shape to the garment. The lines of
these dancing dresses were intentionally kept simple, and fashion dictated minimal ornamen-
tation that was “meant to symbolize the inner purity and sincerity of the wearer.”10 Despite this
attempt at simplicity, women were often not able to dress themselves; bodice and sleeve designs
and binding corsets inhibited arm movement. In the 1850’s and 1860’s, skirt size continued to
expand, at times reaching a circumference of more than twenty feet. The bottoms of ball gowns

“The Waltz” after a lithograph by J. David. From A History of Dancing: From the Earliest Ages to Our
Own Times” by Gaston Vuillier (1898).
4—Fashion and Music of the Waltz 43

were only prevented from dragging on the floor by an ever-increasing number of petticoats,
supported by crinoline hoops.11
Crinolines began to flatten in the front during the 1860’s, and emphasis was placed on
adding extra fabric to the back of the dress. Smaller hoops were sometimes employed instead
of full crinolines to lift only the back portion of the dress. This development eventually led to
the advent of the bustle and the popularity of long trains around the 1870’s, and provided new
challenges for dancers.12 Etiquette books suggested that perhaps a lady might want to forgo
strict adherence to this latest fashion trend rather than risk tearing her dress while dancing.
Further warning was given to the gentleman to avoid stepping on a lady’s gown at all costs, and
to be aware that assisting a woman with holding her dress up while dancing was a serious breach
of decorum.
Throughout the Victorian period, gentlemen were expected to wear white gloves while
dancing so that their hands wouldn’t stain a ladies dress with perspiration.13 Etiquette recom-
mended that they carry an extra pair in case the first became soiled. The true gentleman would
never offer his hand to one of the fairer sex with less than pristine gloves.14
Women also always wore gloves to every ball; in fact, a language of glove flirtations devel-
oped in which a lady could convey the most complex communications to a man through deli-
cate gestures with her gloves. For example, biting the tips of gloves signified, “I wish to be rid
of you very soon.” Twisting them around the fingers meant, “Be careful, we are being watched.”
There also was an equally complex language utilizing fans, handkerchiefs, and parasols.15
When attending a ball, the proper Victorian woman required a number of accessories and
accoutrements. These articles always included a dance card with attached writing pencil. Each
dance card listed the order of dances for the evening along with the composer, with spaces beside
each number for listing the lady’s partner for that particular dance. The dance card came in a
variety of shapes and sizes, and each had a decorative cord attached to allow it to hang down
the front of a lady’s skirt and free her hands for dancing. The admission to balls in Vienna was
always higher for women than for men in order to cover the cost of manufacturing these ball-
spenden, as they were called in Austria.
Another common accessory for a lady attending a dance was a skirt-lifter, a tong-like appa-
ratus that was attached by a string to the waistband of her dress. The skirt lifter had a metal
clip that was used to grab the hemline of the skirt and to manage her train. A lady also often
carried a hand cooler, a chilled glass egg that was held to prevent unsightly and unfeminine
sweaty palms and to avert “passing fevers.” Another common accessory was the posy holder, or
bouquetier, a small container for flowers that was either worn on the hand by means of an
attached ring, or released and suspended on a delicate chain down the skirt. The wide variety
of posy holders ranged from those that were mass-produced to specially commissioned ones
made out of precious metals and jewels. Nosegays were commonly used to ward off unpleasant
odors and as a means of covert communication. As with fans, parasols, and gloves, there devel-
oped a Victorian language of flowers; each variety of flower signified a different meaning,
explained in one of the many floral dictionaries available at the time. For example, roses signified
love, whereas ivy meant only friendship. Collier’s Cyclopedia of Commercial and Social Informa-
tion and Treasury of Useful and Entertaining Knowledge from 1882 explained,
Flowers have a language of their own, and it is this bright particular language that we would
teach our readers. How charmingly a young gentleman can speak to a young lady, and with what
eloquent silence in this delightful language. How delicately she can respond, the beautiful little
flowers telling her tale in perfumed words; what a delicate story the myrtle or the rose tells! How
unhappy that which basil, or yellow rose reveals, while ivy is the most faithful of all.16
Complex conversations were held with simply the exchange of flowers. A bouquet of
amethyst, meadow lychnis, and moss rosebud signified, “You’re so clever! I admit, I love you!”
44 Part I. The Waltz

whereas one composed of vine, great bindweed, common almond, and mimosa meant, “You
were drunk and misled me. How thoughtless of you! I can’t handle such behavior.”
In her fascinating book, From the Ballroom to Hell: Grace and Folly in Nineteenth-century
Dance, dance historian Elizabeth Aldrich points out that there was a direct correlation between
fashions created for dancing and the dance itself. She writes,
At the end of the eighteenth century skirts were full and the tempo of the waltz was rapid. The
tempo slowed down after the first years of the nineteenth century and a lady’s dress was tubular
and narrow. The slower tempo of the “Slow Waltz,” described by Thomas Wilson in 1816, com-
plemented the architecture of the narrow skirts. Fuller skirts, which began appearing at the end
of the teens and reached their height of fullness in the fashions of the 1830s through the early
1860s, paralleled the increasing tempo of the waltz and also complemented the circular nature of
the whirling dance. As full skirts gave way to the trains and bustles of the later 1860s through
1880s, whirling rapid circles yielded to a more pendulum-like box-step waltz.17

In the United States, several factors contributed to the growth of the dance fashion indus-
try. Technological advancements, such as the invention of the sewing machine by Elias Howe,
the Jacquard loom, which made lace, and the Mays sewing machine, which provided ready-made
shoes, made dressing in style more affordable for the everyday woman, and provided access to
the latest styles in dance apparel for those who were not able to buy expensive, professionally-
made gowns. New technologies in the printing industry and an expanding rail system provided
easy access to inexpensive fashion magazines that carried the latest Paris designs. Factory-made
fabrics also gave many American women the opportunity to make affordable, yet stylish dance

The Music of the Waltz

To perform the original version of the Viennese waltz, also called the valse trois temps, the
man stepped across the woman, tracing a curvilinear path on the floor, as she swiveled on her
own axis. The couple executed one half-turn on these first three steps, causing them to rotate
180 degrees. They then completed the turn on the next three steps, as the man swiveled on his
axis and swung the woman across him. Traditionally, the waltz started with the man facing out-
ward from the center of the ballroom. Beginning on his left foot, he spiraled his partner clock-
wise, always ending up facing outward again after every six steps. As the couple rotated together
clockwise, they moved around the ballroom floor among the other dancers counter-clockwise.
In the book, Revolving Embrace: The Waltz as Sex, Steps and Sound, Sevin H. Yaraman
points out that the circular movement of the Viennese waltz was reflected in the music that
early nineteenth century composers specifically created to accompany the popular dance. These
composers kept their music fairly simple to correlate with the simple waltz steps, and like the
dance, it was organized into six count sections with the second three counts echoing the first
three. The first beat of each measure was accented with a heavy bass note followed by the remain-
der of the chord on the two next beats. This underlying um-pah-pah rhythm continued through-
out. Each measure of three counts, as well as each two measure phrase of six, corresponded to
the undulating feeling of the dance.
The circling of the couples around the dance floor was reflected in the overall organiza-
tion of the music, which was highly repetitive and cyclical, and propelled dancers into an ecstatic
altered state through the narcotic effect of endless repetition.
When dancing the valse trois temps, the Viennese slightly anticipated the second beat of
the dance, a custom that heightened the swinging feeling and added a sense of passion and
urgency to the waltz. This anticipation was also mirrored in the music. In addition, breaks in
4—Fashion and Music of the Waltz 45

“The Waltz” by Percy Macquoid. From Dancing by Mrs. Lilly Grove (1901).
46 Part I. The Waltz

the phrasing required the dancers to slightly vary their rhythm in order to stay on the beat.
These syncopations required sensitive timing, and true aficionados of the waltz knew that “only
a born-and-bred Viennese can do [the waltz] properly because ‘it’s all a matter of feeling.’
Either you have it or you don’t — in which case no one can help you.”18

The Birth of Waltz Music

The musical form of the modern waltz had its birth at the end of the eighteenth century
and is most associated with the city of Vienna. Barges floating down the Danube River from
Linz in Upper Austria to Vienna carried musicians on board to entertain the passengers. Usu-
ally comprising only one or two violins, a guitar, and a bass, these itinerant, self-taught musi-
cians, known as Linzer Fiddlers, specialized in ländlers, waltzes, folksongs, and popular tunes.
To earn extra money, they played in the beer-gardens, wine taverns, inns, and fairs found along
the river, while waiting for their barges to return.19
Most of these establishments had dance floors, and on holidays and Sundays, were thronged
with the lower classes from the city. The rural musicians, who lacked training and technique
but had energy and strong rhythm, found a receptive audience who welcomed the danceable
feel of the Linzer Schiffsmusik.20

Development of the Waltz Musical Form

The demand for new waltzes led to a prolific outpouring of compositions in triple time by
many composers. The number and variety of these waltzes is indicative of the dance’s enor-
mous popularity and Vienna’s love of music.21 At first these waltz tunes were fairly primitive in
form and were based on old ländler melodies.22 They consisted of eight bars of music, followed
by a second eight bar section, which was generally a repeat of the first section transposed up a
fifth. This practice was so common that Austrian poet Nikolaus Lenau wrote a poem entitled
“Styrian dance,” in which he sarcastically pondered if life in heaven would be “just higher by a
fifth,”23 than life was here on earth.
In 1786, Spanish composer Vincenz Martín y Soler included a simple ländler at the end of
the second act of his opera, Una Cosa Rara. In the opera, the four main characters performed
a dance to the tune, and when the work premiered in Vienna, the number created an immedi-
ate sensation. The waltz made Una Cosa Rara such a hit that Mozart’s Figaro, which was on the
scheduled repertoire that year in Vienna, was abandoned. However, recognizing the waltz’s
growing appeal, Mozart jumped on the bandwagon; he included a waltz in his opera Don Gio-
vanni, which premiered the following year in 1787.
Mozart was passionately fond of dancing the waltz himself. As court composer, he created
many orchestral dances in triple time. Several of these dances included authentic folk songs or
contained melodies modeled on ländler tunes. Mozart’s dances were harmonically refined,
sophisticated, and often humorous, but despite his musical genius, he never truly developed
the waltz form. However, Mozart and his contemporary, Martín y Soler, began a trend that con-
tinued throughout the nineteenth century, leading to the creation of some of the most beauti-
ful opera music ever composed.24
Hayden, Beethoven, and Schubert also wrote waltzes. Hayden composed several sets of
orchestral dances and often insinuated ländler-like dance music by subtly transforming tradi-
tional minuet forms. In 1766, he included the first known waltz specifically written for piano
in his sonatina “Mouvement de Waltze.” Beethoven enjoyed inserting Austrian flavored folk
4—Fashion and Music of the Waltz 47

tunes into his compositions, but like Mozart and Hayden, he never truly developed the waltz
form. Franz Schubert created many beautiful waltzes for piano, and a few for string orchestra,
which were alternately labeled as ländlers, Deutschers, or walzers. Schubert’s waltzes were slow,
with each beat of the bar stressed as in the rustic ländlers. Mozart, Hayden, Beethoven, and
Schubert wrote their waltzes specifically to accompany dances and not as concert pieces.
Hummel was the first to compose waltzes for piano, intended purely as concert pieces. One
such waltz was Deutsche Tänze, Opus 28, which he was commissioned to write for the grand
opening of the Apollo Hall in Vienna. Hummel’s waltz compositions tended to be heavily rem-
iniscent of the slow, plodding ländler; however, they were musically important in the develop-
ment of waltz music because these early experiments in concert-style piano music culminated
in the works of Weber, Chopin, Brahms, and Liszt.
It was Weber’s 1819 Aufforderung zum Tanz (Invitation to the Dance) that truly elevated the
music of the waltz from the ballroom to the concert hall. The first important milestone in the
development of the waltz musical form, Weber’s composition tied several waltzes together and
included a formal introduction and thematic coda. This form was imitated by both Joseph Lan-
ner and Johann Strauss I, who elevated waltz music to its highest degree.

Joseph Lanner and the Strauss Dynasty

Joseph Lanner was born on April 12, 1801, the son of a glove maker who worked in
Oberdöbling, near Vienna. His musical talent was apparent at an early age and by the time he
was twelve, he was playing violin with a popular dance band led by Ignaz Michael Pamer,25 him-
self a prolific composer of ländlers and waltzes. Lanner left Pamer’s orchestra at age seventeen
to form his own trio of two violins and a guitar. The group became so successful that in 1823
he added a fourth member, a twenty-five year old viola player named Johann Strauss.26 The
meeting of Lanner and Strauss led to a collaboration that significantly influenced the develop-
ment of waltz music.
Lanner’s group expanded to a quintet, then to a string orchestra, and eventually to a full
classical orchestra with woodwinds and percussion. This musical group became so popular with
Viennese audiences that Lanner eventually split the orchestra in two and put Strauss in charge
of one half.
The two musicians were the closest of friends, sharing housing, debts, girls, and even their
shirts.27 Eventually though, professional jealousies erupted between Lanner and Strauss. The
Viennese public, who delighted in gossiping about the two young musical stars, speculated that
the trouble was caused when Lanner introduced new waltzes under his own name that had in
fact been composed by Strauss. Others said the split resulted from Strauss stealing Lanner’s girl-
friends. Whatever the cause, the two parted ways in 1825 after having a very public free-for-all
one night on the bandstand at a popular dance hall where they were performing.28 The fight was
widely covered in all the papers, and because “in Vienna during the waltz age all emotions were
expressed in waltz themes,”29 Lanner commemorated the event by writing a humorous compo-
sition called “Trennungs-Waltzer,” or the “Separation Waltz” which echoed in musical themes
a drunken brawl even down to the sounds of people hiccupping.30
After leaving Lanner’s orchestra with sixteen of Lanner’s musicians, Strauss formed his own
orchestra in 1826. Soon both orchestras were competing with each other as the most popular
purveyors of waltz music. The citizens of Vienna, as well as foreign tourists, all longed to hear
Lanner’s and Strauss’s intoxicating melodies and to dance to their prolific outpouring of waltzes.
Frederick Chopin, who at age twenty-one had come to Vienna hoping for recognition for his
own musical skills, sadly remarked, “Lanner, Strauss and their waltzes dominate everything.”31
48 Part I. The Waltz

A rather shy man, Lanner did not share Strauss’s fiery temperament and driving ambi-
tion.32 Whereas Lanner seemed content with local fame, Strauss longed for international recog-
nition, and one year after forming his own orchestra, he organized a long tour throughout
Germany. The following year, in 1836, he took his twenty-five-member group to Belgium, Hol-
land, Northern Germany, and the Rhineland, and in 1837 traveled to France and England.
Strauss’s music created a sensation wherever he went. He became an international celebrity and
his name became a household word. “Men everywhere smoked Strauss pipes and women drank
tea from Strauss cups.”33
As the tour continued, however, Strauss’s homesick musicians rebelled against the relent-
less schedule and demanded to return to Vienna. Strauss suggested instead that the orchestra
tour America. They turned him down and grudgingly agreed to return to Southern France. Still
discontented, the musicians rebelled in Rouen and refused to play. A hurt Strauss refused to
speak with the musicians for several weeks, yet the tour continued. In Scotland, November rains
made the whole orchestra sick. The band members recovered but Strauss did not. He contin-
ued to push himself as they played in city after city. His fever and cough worsened; after a doc-
tor gave him opium to help with the cough and he fainted several times, he realized the tour
could not go on. The grueling schedule had resulted in a complete breakdown. He collapsed
several times on the way back to Vienna and in Strasbourg had to be taken to the hotel where
he was unconscious for four days. In Linz, he had another relapse. He ran out into the street in
delirium, collapsed, and had to be carried back inside. Newspapers reported he was dying. Few
believed he would survive the rest of the trip back home, but Strauss insisted on going back to
Vienna. When he finally arrived there, friends rushed to inform his wife Anna that her hus-
band would die within hours. The family gathered and waited for his death, but Strauss sur-
He never completely recovered from the breakdown, but as soon as he was able to get up
out of bed, Strauss reorganized his orchestra. He made his first public appearance after his ill-
ness at Sperl’s dancing palace on January 13, 1839. Vienna welcomed him back with a ten-minute
Addicted to overwork, Strauss soon had another collapse. As part of his treatment, he
decided to move away from his family into an apartment of his own so he would be away from
the noise that he complained his children made.34 He was particularly irritated by his eldest son
and namesake, Johann Strauss II. The boy wanted to pursue music against his father’s wishes.
Despite his father’s resistance, the boy secretly studied violin with his mother’s help and by age
nineteen became his father’s chief competition.
Johann Strauss II was born on October 25, 1825, one month after his father had broken
away from Joseph Lanner’s orchestra. His father, a difficult and moody man, was rarely at home
because he was either playing in Vienna or touring abroad. The boy was raised by his mother
Anna and remained close to her throughout his life.35
In 1844, Johann Strauss II formed his own orchestra but had difficulty finding a place to
debut the group. The proprietors of the leading establishments in Vienna were leery of offend-
ing the young man’s powerful father. Eventually his mother arranged for her son to play at Dom-
mayer’s Casino. The announcement of the premier created a furor in Vienna as curious citizens
gossiped about how the nineteen year-old upstart was challenging his father, the reigning waltz
king of Vienna. The hottest news in the waltz-crazed city was Strauss versus Strauss. Johann
Strauss Sr. was quoted as saying, “Goodness, now the lad wants to write waltzes of which he
hasn’t the faintest idea! It isn’t even easy for me, after all these years, to create something new
in eight or twelve bars.”36
The new orchestra, led by the younger Strauss, premiered on Tuesday October 15, 1844,
and all of Vienna fought for tickets. “Dommayer’s had never seen anything like it. The police
4—Fashion and Music of the Waltz 49

got nasty when important individuals made too free with their elbows. Women got hurt and
fainted....”37 The ballroom was packed to capacity, mostly with supporters of the elder Strauss,
although he was not there himself. Instead, he had sent two of his friends to spy on the pro-
ceedings. The young Strauss appeared on the stage and, despite a bad case of stage fright, began
to conduct his orchestra. One of his father’s spies started to hiss trying to instigate others in
the audience to follow his lead. Instead, the crowd politely applauded after the first number.
For his second piece the young Strauss played one of his own compositions. The surprised crowd
loved it and made him repeat the number four times. Other numbers were so well received they
had to be repeated nineteen times and as the evening progressed, the crowd was completely won
over. When Strauss played one of his father’s most popular compositions at the close of the musi-
cal soiree, many in the audience began to cry. The next morning Strauss’s spy reported back.
He told the fuming patriarch, “The rascal was terrific.”38
The elder Strauss refused to speak to his son for two years. Finally on June 23, 1846, Johann
II gathered a small group of musicians from his orchestra and went to his father’s house. They
stood beneath his window and began to serenade the older man with his own waltzes. The father
was moved by his son’s attempts to reconcile, and the two finally embraced. When Johann I
suggested his son join his orchestra as concertmaster, the younger Strauss respectfully declined.
A truce was reached though, and both men continued to compose and perform, each with his
group of rival supporters.
Five years later, Johann I died at the age of 45. He was buried next to his friend Joseph
Lanner. Two days after the burial of his father, Johann II conducted his father’s orchestra in a
memorial concert; however, several of his father’s musicians refused to play under the son’s
baton. The citizens of Vienna were even more partisan and once again divided into rival camps.
One group accused Johann II “of failing to show filial piety” and the other argued “he had been
forced into a struggle with the dead.”39 There was serious talk of boycotting the young man’s
music. In an effort to pacify the warring factions, Johann II issued a statement explaining that
since his father’s death, he was now responsible for supporting his grieving mother as well as
his siblings. He added, “I feel my dear father’s influence is with me. It leads me to the spirit that
mourns at his grave. I shall show myself worthy of him.”40 The citizens of Vienna were placated
and soon the matter faded from the public’s interest. The members of the elder Strauss’ orches-
tra were invited to play or resign. They choose to play and eventually both orchestras were
joined together.
Johann took over all of his father’s duties and continued his own. He was in constant
demand, performing every evening, conducting and composing at a superhuman pace, all the
while running a large business enterprise. A special coach was hired to whisk him from engage-
ment to engagement. His popularity was unsurpassed. One writer of the period commented,
“No foreigner left Vienna without having heard Strauss’s waltzes under the composer’s direc-
tion. To miss such an event would be like going to Rome without seeing the Vatican.”41
In 1853, Johann collapsed from overwork. From his sickbed, he asked his brother Josef to
take over the family legacy. The shy, melancholic young man protested, “I couldn’t replace you.
I don’t even play the violin.” Johann responded, “It doesn’t matter. You have the Strauss per-
sonality. You will conduct with the baton. Meanwhile, you’ll learn to play the violin.”42 Josef
reluctantly agreed. At first the critics were understanding but unenthusiastic. Then an insight-
ful Josef, aware of the Viennese public’s demand for original works, not only presented his
father’s and brother’s compositions, but also successfully composed and conducted his own.
The Strauss dynasty continued and Josef eventually went on to create 222 pieces, many of which
are ranked as some of the most beautiful waltzes ever written.
Unlike the relationship between father and son, there was no jealousy or rivalry between
the two Strauss brothers. As Johann began to recover, the siblings sometimes alternated con-
50 Part I. The Waltz

ducting the family orchestra. When Johann resumed touring, Josef often accompanied him and
ran the business part of the organization.
In 1870, Josef was asked to conduct in Poland. The young man traveled to Warsaw, but
difficulties developed when seven of his musicians didn’t arrive from Vienna. Their Polish
replacements presented problems in rehearsal, especially the first violinist, and Josef had to cut
several bars of music that were causing problems in one piece. The first three performances went
smoothly, but during the fourth performance, the violinist forgot the music that was cut and
there was musical chaos. Josef, who already suffered from frequent fainting spells, was over-
come and collapsed on the stage, fell down four steps, and suffered a severe concussion that put
him into a coma. Josef ’s wife and his brother Johann rushed to Warsaw to be with him; he finally
recovered consciousness after a few days. They carefully took him back to Vienna, where Josef
died on July 22 at the age of forty-three.
The Strauss organization was kept together after Josef ’s death by the third brother, Eduard,
also an accomplished conductor and composer. Although he never reached the artistic heights
of his two siblings, Eduard was another link in the Strauss dynasty that helped to spread waltz
music across the globe.43
During his life, Johann II remained the most influential and celebrated member of the
Strauss family. He was an international celebrity; posters announcing his concerts sometimes
showed the Waltz King sitting on top of the globe with his conductor’s baton held as a scepter.
During his American tour in 1872, concerts were given to crowds of over 100,000.44
The composer was treated with such adulation that women kissed the seams of his coat
and begged for locks of his hair. Strauss’ valet provided the “authentic Strauss” hair that he
actually clipped from a dog, until he feared the black Newfoundland would end up completely
A prolific composer, Johann Strauss II penned more than 500 waltzes, including the mem-
orable “Blue Danube” (1866) and “Tales From the Vienna Woods” (1868), as well as numerous
other dances and marches.46 He also composed 16 operettas, including Die Fledermaus (1874),
Eine Nact in Venedig (1883), and Der Zigeunerbaron (1885). Johann Strauss’ music was more
lyrical and refined than his father’s. He brought the artistry of the Viennese waltz to its zenith
adding sophisticated rhythms, unique melodic inventions, and rich orchestral colorings.
As the nineteenth century came to a close, the waltz lost its shining star. Johann Strauss
II died on June 3, 1899.47 After working on a score for Cinderella one afternoon, he closed his
eyes and died peacefully in his sleep. Less than an hour after his death, the news quickly spread
throughout Vienna. At a benefit concert being held that day at the Stadtpark pavilion to raise
money for a monument to honor Joseph Lanner and Johann Strauss I, Eduard Kremser, the con-
ductor, received the news of Johann II’s death on the podium while in the middle of a number.
He stopped the orchestra immediately and without any explanation to the audience, began
instead to conduct The Blue Danube waltz. The audience rose to its feet and wept.
Johann Strauss II was buried three days later. His violin was carried in the funeral proces-
sion on a velvet pillow behind the casket. All of Vienna lined the streets to honor him.
The enduring worldwide popularity of waltz owes a debt to this family of musicians who
for eighty years dominated the hearts and minds of society.48 The buoyancy and beauty of their
music continues to evoke the very spirit of the waltz.

Reaction to the Waltz

As the waltz found its way into salons and drawing rooms, polished floors and light danc-
ing slippers replaced the rough barroom floors, outdoor fields, and heavy hobnailed footwear
which had been a part of earlier versions of the German spinning dance. These changes in venue
and fashion resulted in considerable accelerations in the tempo of the dance. Traditional hop-
ping and skipping steps were replaced with gliding steps so that the swift turns could be exe-
cuted more easily. In 1797, the Journal des Luxas und der Moden stated that the Viennese waltz
“surpassed everything in headlong speed.”1
Such rapid turns required new ways of holding one’s partner. The traditional manner in
which the ländler was performed, with the man’s hands on the woman’s waist and the woman’s
on his shoulders, changed as both placed their hands on their partner’s torso.2 In 1800, one eye-
witness described this new method of waltzing.
The man placed the palms of hands gently against the sides of his partner, not far from the
armpits. His partner does the same, and instantly with as much velocity as possible they turn
round, and at the same time gradually glide round the room.3

Medical Objections
As the speed of the waltz increased, objections to it also increased. Enemies of the dance
alerted the public about the detrimental effects that too much spinning had upon a person’s
health and well-being.
[T]oo much dancing, especially waltzing, is as injurious to the soundness of the mind as to the
health of the body and contributes, apart from other physical effects, not a little to the weakness
of the mind and the resulting despondency ... this violent movement, destroying both body and
mind, is unfortunately much beloved by almost the entire female sex.4

Opponents of waltzing thought that women were in particular danger from participating
in the dance because of their “delicate constitution.”5 One critic warned women that the waltz’s
“rotary motion is injurious to the brain and spinal marrow.”6 Another cautioned, “A lady should
never waltz if she feels dizzy, It is a sign of disease of the heart, and has brought on death.”7 In
his book Exercises for Ladies (1836), Donald Walker alerted his readers,
abandon waltzing, on account of its causing too violent emotions or an agitation which produces
vertigo and nervous symptoms ...its rapid turnings, the clasping of the dancers, their exciting
contact, and too quick and too long a succession of lively and agreeable emotions, produce some-
times, in women of a very irritable constitution, syncopes, spasms and other accidents which
should induce them to renounce it.8

Physicians warned of over-exertion and over-heating. While some touted the benefits of
exercise achieved by doing a few waltzes, others cautioned that participants should use restraint.
In 1888, a newspaper in Wisconsin explained how Edward Scott, author of Dancing and Dancers,

52 Part I. The Waltz

had estimated “the distance actually waltzed by the belle of the ball room.” The paper revealed
to its “fair and fragile reader” that if she went six times around an average size ballroom it would
equal a circuit of 480 yards. “But you are turning nearly all the time, say on an average, once
in every yard of onward progress, and the circumference of a circle is rather more than three
times its diameter, which will bring each waltz to over three-quarters of a mile, or at least four-
teen miles for the ten waltzes.”9 The implication was clear —fourteen miles in a heavy ball-gown
was overdoing it.
In his book The Social Dance, Dr. R. A. Adams stated,
Visit the dancing woman the day “after the ball is over;” hear her weak voice, and look into her
listless eyes; note her general lassitude, observe that she has scarcely any life left in her, and you
will get some idea of the physical effects of the dance.... In a certain Western city, after quite a
discussion with a frail young woman of 22, she acknowledged that it required at least three days
for her to recover from one night’s dancing.10

Anti-dance writers admonished their readers that overexertion from waltzing, in combi-
nation with other dangers inherent in the ballroom, created a perilous mix. In his book May
Christians Dance? James Brookes wrote:
If heated rooms, and sumptuous feasting, and whirling round and round, and jumping up and
down until two or three o’clock in the morning, and then sudden exposure to the cold air, fol-
lowed by a day of slumber or ennui, tend to promote health, the physicians are all in the dark
with regard to hygienic laws, and my own observation has greatly deceived me.11

Dr. R. A. Adams stated that according to his statistics, “...the longevity of a habitual dancer is
25 years for the female and 37 years for the male.”12
The article “Concerning Round Dances,” published in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in
April of 1866, gives a detailed explanation of the deleterious effects of dancing in a crowded
It needs no extensive physiological knowledge to teach us that the maintenance of health depends
upon the fulfillment of two conditions— adequate aëration of the blood, and proper ablation of
effete tissue. Both of these desiderata are effected by the agency of oxygen, which not only
revivifies that portion of the blood which has made the circuit of the body, but aids in making
new from the chyle freshly added; and combining with the carbon resulting from textural waste,
is breathed forth as carbonic acid. Now, in a crowded ball-room, we have, above, a multitude of
lights, burning each its share of this all-important gas, and below, several hundred human beings,
who, under the stimulus of violent exercise, are undergoing more waste, and consequently con-
suming more oxygen, and creating more poisonous carbonic acid. After a while, this latter is
produced in such excess that our dancers, instead of getting rid of their own detritus, are actually
inhaling that of others.13

The article also warned of the added threat when a hostess used a “crash,” a cloth that was
sometimes spread over the dancing floor.
[F]urther incentive to disease is hospitably provided by ball-givers in the form of a “crash”— a
maleficent linen cloth which is spread over the carpets to afford a smooth surface for the “many
twinkling feet” of pallid victims. From the excessive attrition of this fabric the air is soon filled
with a mist of floating lint, whose minute particles whiten one’s coat, permeate one’s hair, irri-
tate one’s eyes, and, worse than all, clog one’s organs of respiration with a tenacious coating.14

The article blamed the prevalence of bronchitis in nine out of ten sufferers among the fashion-
able set on the “pernicious lint-dust” from “crash” cloths. The death of a musician was even
attributed to it.
Despite warnings, the popularity of the waltz continued to grow. The dance seemed almost
irresistible to those who fell under its spell. The euphoria created by the rapid rotations of the
waltz was one of the most vital parts of the thrill — the thrill of losing control. But it was this
5—Reaction to the Waltz 53

The allemand arm position of the center-left couple indicates an early form of the waltz. To the left of
that couple, the woman’s precarious position suggests that she is suffering from vertigo because of
spinning. “The Cyprians’ Ball at the Argyle Rooms,” after an engraving by Robert Cruikshank. From
A History of Dancing: From the Earliest Ages to Our Own Times by Gaston Vuillier (1898).

very point that so terrified those who sought to protect ethical and moral standards because,
in addition to the physical damage caused to the mind and the body by the constant spinning,
it was thought that this motion scrambled the brain, and destroyed what little moral sense the
waltzer may have had. The waltz’s real danger was that the vertigo made the dancer fall back
into lust.

Moral Objections
In the journal of his travels through Germany, Hungary, Italy, and France in 1798–1799,
Ernst Moritz Arndt documented the new style of waltzing he had witnessed:
The dancers grasped the long dress of their partners so that it would not drag and be trodden
upon, and lifted it high, holding them in this cloak which brought both bodies under one cover,
as closely as possible against them and in this way the whirling continued in the most indecent
positions; the supporting hand lay firmly on the breasts, at each movement making little lustful
pressures; the girls went wild and looked as if they would drop. When waltzing on the darker side
of the room there were bolder embraces and kisses. The custom of the country; it is not as bad as
it looks, they exclaim; but now I can understand very well why here and there in parts of Swabia
and Switzerland the waltz has been prohibited.15
Close physical contact between members of the opposite sex, often between virtual
strangers, would have been unthinkable in a public forum before the advent of the waltz. The
closed dance position shattered all previous ethical standards and allowed dancers to have what
must have seemed, at that period in history, a highly erotic experience. The sensual thrill was
heightened because it exposed, in public, the most intimately private relationships.
The firm embrace was not only an arbitrary preference for those executing the fast turns
of the waltz, it was also an absolute necessity. Without mutual cooperation, the couple could
be pulled apart by the centrifugal force of the dance’s many revolutions. Eye contact was also
essential to orient one’s self in relation to one’s partner and lessen the vertigo. This intense face-
to-face proximity, mixed with the danger of spinning madly in a room full of other moving
couples, made the waltz an erotically exciting and irresistible experience. “In this sense the waltz
54 Part I. The Waltz

may have represented a world in which only the senses were operative, a world which was void
of responsibility, an experience of self and self-involvement, an escape from reality and a sur-
render to the moment....”16
Moralists did not stand for it. “In addition to the associate dissipation, late hours, fash-
ionable dressing, midnight feasting, exposure through excessive exercise, exertion, improper
dress, etc., it can be shown most clearly that dancing has a direct influence in stimulating the
passions, and provoking unchaste desires, which too often lead to unchaste acts and are in them-
selves violations of the requirements of strict morality....”17

The Dance Hold

A major concern was the way in which the man held his partner.18 One of the leading dance
masters of the day, Allen Dodworth19 explained,
The manner of holding is, however, of very great consequence, as what is seen in this is fre-
quently used as a measure of character. In this is its greatest importance.... To hold closely has
many objections without one advantage. It is indelicate (vulgar might be a better word). It
reflects unpleasantly upon the characters of the dancers. It prevents freedom of motion. It is
ungraceful in appearance. And as it is always in favor with the vulgar and vicious, it ought to be
frowned upon by the cultivated.... In conclusion, let it be remembered that purity of thought and
action may be conspicuous in waltzing as in any other situation in life; that the gross waltz
grossly, the vicious viciously, the refined and innocent innocently and in a refined manner.20

Dodworth recommended that the gentleman rest his hand lightly on the lady’s back “so
that air may pass between, as in some cases the close contact induces perspiration and may leave
a mark upon the lady’s dress.”21 True Politeness, A Hand-Book of Etiquette for Gentlemen. By an
American Gentleman (1847), also admonished gentlemen not to hold a woman too tightly while
waltzing. It stated, “If a lady waltzes with you, beware not to press her waist; lightly touch it
with the open palm of your hand, lest you leave a disagreeable impression not only on her cein-
ture, but on her mind.”22
Dancing masters were well aware of the public’s perception of the waltz position.23 They
assured them that professional dance teachers taught only the proper hold and worked to pre-
vent indelicate embraces on the dance floor. In The Director, the first American magazine devoted
to dance, a letter from New York dancing master A. E. Bournique stated,
It has been for some time a matter of anxiety on the part of dancing masters to preserve the dig-
nity and grace of the round dances. While pupils are with us it is simple enough, for we can
insist upon propriety and good form. After they leave the dancing schools and take up fads it is
more difficult to influence them. The college fellows, who are given to frolics, are largely respon-
sible for the present evils. They have got bad habits, and everywhere one sees examples of young
men and women dancing in a manner that should make them blush.24

Mr. H. W. Beck agreed. He responded,

The vulgar position has been one of my worst enemies in teaching dancing. I find these attitudes
are assumed by college boys and girls more than any other persons. They are constantly trying to
originate something “new and odd,” and they do so much to the detriment of good form, breed-
ing and grace. I am very strict about the position dancers assume.... I am a member of the Amer-
ican Society of Professors of Dancing and I will aid them to the best of my ability in correcting
the “hugging habit.”25

The editor of The Director, and President of The American Society of Professors of Danc-
ing,26 Melvin Ballou Gilbert, was particularly troubled by improper variations in the waltz
Four illustrations demonstrating the proper waltz hold. Taken from Dancing and Its Relation to Edu-
cation and Social Life by Allen Dodworth (1888).
56 Part I. The Waltz

The so-called side position, where the lady is held to the right of the gentleman instead of in
front, is at once the most dangerous enemy of social dancing, retaining as it does the bad features
of the other false positions, and adding to them by seriously interfering with freedom of move-
ment. The position of the gentleman’s right arm as it is held resting across the lady’s breast
should be at once condemned as indelicate, and reflecting unpleasantly upon the character of the
dancers, many times wrongfully. It being in especial favor by the low and vicious it ought to be
frowned upon by the cultivated, remembering that purity of thought and action may be notice-
able in dancing as in any other situation in life.27

In order to curb complaints against the unseemly dance hold, the American Society of
Professors of Dancing issued a decree at its twenty-first annual meeting in 1898:
Hugging while waltzing is under the ban. The decree has gone forth from the men who teach
waltzing that no more hard pressure shall be permitted during the process of the fascinating
whirl. Reprimands are in store for all young men or young women either, who persist in hugging
in the dance.28

The aspect of hugging in the dance was especially abhorrent to detractors because through-
out an evening of waltzing, couples could change partners several times. The impropriety of
intimate contact with a stranger — someone who might not be related by either blood or mar-
riage, was a disturbingly blatant example of the lascivious nature of the dance. It created an
uproar among opponents of the waltz. In Across the Dead Line of Amusement, author Henry
Stough wrote,
No woman has any right to allow a man not her father, her son, her brother, or other blood rela-
tive, any liberties with her person, and no man has any right to take such liberties with any
woman not his mother, his wife, his daughter, his sister, or other blood relative. Such liberties
indulged in promiscuously in a public dance hall or a private parlor are bound to engender
familiarities that eventually breed contempt among people, both young and old. Married people
cannot grant such liberties to others than their life partners without the same results.29

Stough told of a Philadelphia army officer who saw a waltz and remarked, “If I should see a
man offering to dance with my wife in that way, I would horse-whip him.”30
Critics admonished that the temptation was too great. Waltzing in the arms of a stranger
inevitably led to a woman’s downfall.31
The girl whose blood is hot from exertion and whose every carnal sense is aroused and inflamed
... is led to the ever-waiting carriage, where she sinks exhausted on the cushioned seat. Oh, if I
could picture to you the fiendish look that comes into his eyes as he sees his helpless victim
before him. Now is his golden opportunity. He must not miss it, and he does not, and that beau-
tiful girl who entered the dancing school as pure and innocent as an angel three months ago,
returns home that night robbed of that most precious jewel of womanhood — virtue!32

Those who did not totally disapprove of waltzing all together strongly insisted that a woman
should at least take special care to only dance with suitable partners. The Illustrated Manners
Book in 1855 declared, “A woman especially ought to be very sure that the man she waltzes with
is one worthy of so close an intimacy.”33 Mme. Celnart wrote in The Gentleman and Lady’s Book
of Politeness, “The waltz is a dance of quite too loose a character, and unmarried ladies should
refrain from it altogether, both in public and private; very young married ladies, however, may
be allowed to waltz in private balls, if it is very seldom, and with persons of their acquaintance.”34
Defenders of the waltz tried to avert possible protests by mandating that the gentleman
not encircle the lady’s waist with his arm until dancing actually commenced. They also insisted
that at no time should a gentleman’s bare hand touch any part of his partner’s anatomy. There-
fore, gloves were absolutely required while dancing. If for some unforeseeable reason the gen-
tleman did not have his gloves, he was to place a handkerchief in his hand to prevent improper
skin-to-skin contact with his partner.
5—Reaction to the Waltz 57

A cartoon from the London Illustrated News dated February 23, 1889 entitled “Waltzers and Waltzing.”
It shows the plight of Gertie, who suffers the indignities of dancing with many unsuitable partners
until she finds Jack who can actually waltz.
58 Part I. The Waltz

In addition to disgust with improper contact between partners, many also disapproved of
the exhibitionistic nature of ballroom fashions. Unlike daywear, ballgowns were often décol-
leté. Corsets lifted the bosoms until they almost spilled out over the bodice and upper arms and
shoulders were frequently exposed. In his book May Christians Dance? James Brookes was
shocked at the shameful display of the fashionable female dancing the waltz. He wrote:
[Women] with dresses so shamefully low in the neck that the bosom is exposed, and with dresses
so short that in “the voluptuous movement of the waltz” the limbs are fully exhibited to view
only covered with flesh-colored stocking and drawers, while young men make comments during
the entertainment or afterwards upon the comparative shapeliness of the “fine legs” revealed to
their gaze.35

T. A. Faulkner, author of From the Ballroom to Hell, wrote,

To be sure, one not accustomed to such scenes would consider them [women] anything but
respectably dressed, with their nude arms and partially exposed breast, and tightly clinging skirts
which more than suggest the contour of body and limb. But society and fashion demand such
dress; vile men demand it; for them the waltz would be spoiled of half its pleasure if the woman
was not nearly as nude as she dare be.36
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Origins of the Animal Dances

The first decade of the twentieth century brought with it a barnyard full of dances. Each
week, it seemed, a new dance was invented, usually based on the movement of some beast or
bird and christened after that creature. Dancers did the turkey trot, the bunny hug, the horse
trot, the crab step, the fish walk, the snake dip, the eagle rock, the chicken scratch, the kanga-
roo kant, the wiggle worm, the grizzly bear, the fox trot, and a host of other dances.1 Animal
dances were the ragtime rage, and the local dance hall was a veritable zoo.
Most of the dances were based on the one-step, or trot, as it was also called, a fairly sim-
ple movement in which one step was taken on each beat of music. The fun came with how the
dancers embellished it. Imitating the characteristics of whatever animal the particular dance was
named for, dancers would flap their arms, shake their shoulders, bob their heads, hop or slide
or stomp their feet, or wiggle their backsides. The elegant, erect posture of previous couple
dances gave way to the slouched, hunched-over gait of a lumbering animal, and the smooth cir-
cular motions of the waltz gave way to the jerky movements of ragtime trotting.

Origins of the Animal Dances

Animal dances can be found in the rituals of many primitive cultures. During these mag-
ical rites, dancers pantomimed the movements of animals, believing that by imitation they could
harness, control, and incorporate an animal’s strength, agility, speed, and cunning. Animal dances
were used during initiation rites, fertility rites, courtship rituals, funeral rites, and hunt rituals.
The origins of the animal dances of the ragtime era can be traced to African ritual dances.
Many mimetic African dances used animal movements, and dance historians believe that the
slaves who came to the United States from Africa brought these dances with them and later
developed them. Several plantation slave dances utilized animal mimicry — the buzzard lope,
the camel walk, snake hips, the fish tail, the pigeon wing, and the eagle rock are just a few exam-
ples. The use of gliding and sliding steps, centrifugal movement of the pelvis and hips, swing-
ing movements, polyrhythmic body movements, improvisation, and a crouched body position
are all traits of African dance. Certainly the syncopation used in ragtime music is an identify-
ing feature of African music. By the time ragtime came into vogue, most of the authentic tribal
movements had evolved to a point that the original ritual steps were difficult to identify. Nev-
ertheless, the traces of authentic African dance were visible in the popular social dances of the
In 1914, an article in the New York Times stated, “the ‘rag’ is a dance of the most primitive
peoples and of the most ancient times. There are those that assert the dance was brought from
Africa....”2 The connection to African-American dance is also suggested in the sheet music of
“Texas Tommy Swing” published in 1911. The Texas Tommy was one of the first ragtime dances
and was the progenitor of the turkey trot and grizzly bear. The sheet music, printed in the form
of a newspaper, contained the following story:

62 Part II. The Animal Dances

“The One Step” by artist Lester Ralph, an early twentieth century postcard.
6—Origins of the Animal Dances 63

The rhythm of the Grizzly Bear, the inspiration of the Loving Hug, the grace of the Walk-Back
and the abandon of the Turkey-Trot all blend in the harmony of the Texas Tommy Swing, which
was really the parent of all the others. The dance originated more than forty years ago among the
negroes of the old Southern plantations.... Southern darkies brought the dance and a suggestion
of the melody to San Francisco several years ago, and there upon the Barbary Coast it was
rounded into perfect harmony.3

The Barbary Coast

Most historians trace the first public use of ragtime dances to the dance halls, dives, and
brothels of the Barbary Coast in San Francisco, California. An article in The Anaconda Stan-
dard, dated February 11, 1912, explained that after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 destroyed
the city’s bars and dance halls, new Bohemian resorts sprang up along the beach. When insur-
ance money began to pour in, the beach resorts flourished.
Most of these halls employed singers, “coon-shouters,” Ethiopian or lighter, who weaved through
their audiences keeping time with shoulders and arms and heads to the syncopations of the
orchestra. They loked [sic] as much as anything else like cake walkers without partners. There
was nothing systematic about their gestures or gyrations. They walked and swayed and undulated
in individual style, keeping perfect time to the piano and drums. Well, one night in the “Eye-
wink”— it may have been — or at any rate in one of these halls, a girl excited by champagne,
started up facing the singer and imitated him, keeping at a distance from him but performing
rock for rock, sway for sway, every one of his motions. Her name is lost to fame, but she was the
first turkey trotter of the female sex. The next night she did it again, but this time clasping arms
with the singer. They danced pretty well apart (as the turkey trot should be danced), his right
arm under her left so as to force her shoulder upward and induce the dragging of feet that is nec-
essary to a precise rendition.4
The article further explains that as the town began to rebuild, other dance hall managers
recognized the commercial value of the turkey trot and hired couples to perform it for visiting
tourists whose “dollars were cast liberally upon the polished floors as largess for the most skill-
ful performers.”5 The dance became more “systematized,” and then, “somebody hit upon an
appropriate name — turkey trot — having in mind the waddling and wing flapping of a dignified
old gobbler.”6
In his lectures, Professor Oscar Duryea of the “American Society of Professors of Danc-
ing” theorized that rag dancing had probably developed because sailors who visited the dance
halls along the Barbary Coast still had their “sea legs.” When female dance hall hostesses tried
to teach the sailors the two step, the men would waddle “one-step-at-a-time.” Duryea
announced, “That was the first one-step that was ever danced.”7
Dance historians Jean and Marshall Stearns suggest that the Texas Tommy and other rag
dances were performed at a club called Purcell’s8 as early as 1910. The nightspot, located on the
north side of Pacific Street between Montgomery and Kearny Streets, was owned by Lew Pur-
cell, an ex–Pullman porter, and had only a bar, a few tables and chairs, and some rough benches
that surrounded a dance floor. Although it was the only Black cabaret on the Barbary Coast, it
did not allow African Americans in as customers. The club catered to a tough crowd, and shoot-
ings there were frequent. The club next door to Purcell’s, Spider Kelly’s, took extra precautions
and installed a sheet-iron boiler plate behind their bar to block any stray bullets that might
come through the adjoining wall. Purcell’s had the reputation of being the hottest spot to hear
ragtime and jazz. The club attracted many celebrities wishing to experience the nightlife of the
Barbary Coast. Al Jolsen and Sophie Tucker both visited to the club, and it was there at Pur-
cell’s that Anna Pavlova first learned the turkey trot. “All the new dances came from Purcell’s,
which hired the best colored entertainers from coast to coast.”9
In his book The Barbary Coast, historian Herbert Asbury claims that both the Texas Tommy
64 Part II. The Animal Dances

and the turkey trot were given birth in a dance-hall near Purcell’s called the Thalia. Located on
the same side of the street as Purcell’s, the Thalia was the biggest dancehall on the Pacific Coast.10
Its large dance floor, in the center of a barn-sized building, was cordoned off on each end and
had double tiers of balconies on each side where patrons could sit and drink. To the far right
of the entrance was a separate higher balcony where members of society who were slumming
could sit without being bothered by the club’s regular customers. One of the big attractions at
the Thalia was the final dance of the night, a “Salome dance,” that took place at about one
o’clock in the morning and featured the women who worked at the club. “The ‘Salomes’ danced
and strained and twisted, received a faint spattering of applause, and then, throwing coats or
loose gowns over their scant costumes, joined the throngs of dancers in the comparatively con-
servative steps of the Grizzly Bear, the Bunny Hug, and the Texas Tommy.”11
Four years after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, at least three hundred dance-halls
and saloons were crowded in the six block area around Pacific Street.12 Nicknamed “Terrific
Street,” the millions of lights that lit up the outsides of these nighttime resorts could be seen
for miles. The newly re-built dance-halls of the Barbary Coast became a major tourist attrac-
tion in the city. At night Pacific Street alone became so crowded that it was almost impossible for
automobiles to squeeze through to drop off customers. These resorts were specifically designed
to attract sightseers and were marketed to entice, entertain, and shock visitors. Almost all estab-
lishments had “slummers balconies” that were nightly filled with gawking spectators ogling the
debauchery with delight. Although slummers reveled in seeing the low-life, “the principal attrac-
tion was the dancing. The whole Barbary Coast was dance-crazy, and practically every dive of
any pretentiousness was a combination dance-hall and concert saloon, offering both theatrical
entertainment and an opportunity to trip the light fantastic or to watch it being tripped.”13
Celebrities who were in San Francisco were always sure to visit the area. Sarah Bernhardt,
for example, stopped in whenever her tours played the city, “declaring that she had found it
more fascinatingly wicked than Montmartre.”14 Ballet superstar, Anna Pavlova, claimed “she
had obtained many ideas for her own dance creations by watching the gyrations of the light-
footed Barbary Coasters.”15 Pavlova herself took the dance floor in one dive and performed the
turkey trot. As news of the event was reported on the wires, papers around the country described
the naughty trot and carried sketches of the ballerina doing the dance. Shortly afterward, the
turkey trot began to appear in roof-garden shows in New York. Pavlova, who felt that she had
been instrumental in propelling the dance into the public’s notice, later regretted doing the
dance. As one paper reported, “[Pavlowa] gave the dance its first impetus. That’s why she feels
impelled to fight it.... [She] detests the Turkey trot because it is neither beautiful nor graceful,
and it is apt to be unmannerly.”16
In addition to the more elaborate dance-halls located in San Francisco’s Barbary Coast, fifty
or more nickel dance-halls, as they were called, existed near the area. Women were allowed in free,
but men were charged five cents for five minutes of dancing. No liquor was sold and there was
no other entertainment. Hoping to present themselves as somewhat respectable establishments,
these dance-halls frequently posted signs forbidding immoral behavior, such as the following:

Only on the Following Rules and Conditions:
Turkey Trots, Couples
With Their Heads
Together, Walking,
Bowerying, Dipping, Or Gentlemen Introducting
Themselves to Ladies in the Hall
Introducers on the Floor.17
6—Origins of the Animal Dances 65

In reality any man, no matter what sort of character he was, and any woman, even if she
was under-aged, was admitted. Pimps frequented these low class dives and used them as recruit-
ing grounds for the brothels in the Barbary Coast. The nickel dance-halls were really nothing
more “than supply depots for the red-light district.”18
Although most historians agree that ragtime dances originated in the lower class dance halls
of San Francisco, some sources state that the Texas Tommy, bunny hug, grizzly bear, and the
turkey trot began on the other end of the social spectrum, at the Fairmont Hotel in 1911. This
is probably not the case because newspaper articles that mention the dances pre-date this
year. However, it is known that an African-American by the name of Johnny Peters is often
credited with being one of the first to develop the ragtime dances in the first decade of the
twentieth century in San Francisco. Peters reportedly brought the dances to San Francisco from
the South sometime in 1911. After Peter’s first dance partner Mary Dewson became ill, he found
a new partner, Ethel Williams, considered by some to be the top female American dancer of
that era.19 The two frequently presented the Texas Tommy and other ragtime dances at the Fair-

Other Explanations
As ragtime dances grew in popularity and spread across the country, conservative mem-
bers of society reacted to their connection to the brothel and seedy dance hall. One commen-
tator wrote, “One trouble with the turkey [trot] is the fact of its origin. It sprang from the lowest
strata — the smoke-reeking, beer-stained resorts of San Francisco’s beach, where iron-lunged
singers hurled their voices against the wall paper.”20
Articles appeared that attempted to trace the turkey trot, grizzly bear, bunny hug, and
other dances to more noble roots. Many said the dances were derived from classical sources.
One such article in the Milford Mail in Milford, Iowa stated, “The movements which make up
the turkey trot are traced to the savage dancing of Romulus.”21
Historian Léon La Farge traced the grizzly bear to an ancient Greek bear dance. He claimed
it originated in the city of Brauron and was a springtime dance done to honor the goddess
Artemis. The ritual was performed to appease the goddess’ wrath when a young female devo-
tee killed her pet bear. Young girls performed the dance, some dressed in saffron robes and oth-
ers disguised as bears. The dancers imitated the movements of a she-bear, circling around an
image of the goddess.
The New York Times reported La Farge’s claims and stated, “This discovery of the illustri-
ous lineage of a dance thought to be of American origin, is causing people to regard it with
increased respect and interest. It is now hoped that records of the turkey trot may be found in
Egyptian inscriptions, or the bunny hug among the brick tablets of Assyria,”22
Others agreed that the lineage of the animal dances sprang from ancient roots. The San
Antonio Light ran an article on September 14, 1913, that stated that the turkey trot could be traced
to the Kukis people of Northern India, who introduced the dance in Pompeii:

Long before the Christian era, before there were any gods on Mount Olympus or vestal virgins
dancing in Rome, the Kukis of Assam were dancing the turkey trot with knees bent exactly as
they are now by those who dance it.... It was during the reign of Emperor Augustus Caesar in
A.D., 79, that a famous Egyptian named Arbaces went to live in the city of Pompeii, then a pros-
perous Roman town of 20,000 people nestling at the base of the great volcano Vesuvius. Arbaces
had just arrived from a triumphant siege in Asia, where he had overthrown the savage Kukis of
Assam and taken the country in the name of Caesar.... Arbaces brought the tribe of Kukis and
their quaint religious dances for the entertainment of their [Pompeii’s visiting dignitaries] guests.
66 Part II. The Animal Dances

The dancing fad of the Kukis and their esthetic evolutions soon caught the fancy of the sport-lov-
ing and amusement-seeking public, and it was not long before everybody was sliding, gliding and
swaying to the rhythmic motion of the savage dance.23

Professor Edward Davidson, a Washington dancing master, announced in a lecture on the

history of dancing in 1912, that the turkey trot was “one of the holy of holies in the religion of
the Murats.”24 According to the professor, the primitive tribe of head-hunters, living in the
north of Borneo, had used ritual dance for over five hundred years to honor the rain god. When
drought affected the community, members of the tribe danced the “trot” around an image of
the rain god day in and day out until rain came.
Davidson explained that this same turkey trot was later introduced in dancing schools in
Italy and Portugal as early as the late 1700’s, but when the Italian, Spanish and Portuguese clergy
raised an outcry against the “heathen dance,” it fell from favor. He pointed out that traces of
the turkey trot could still be seen in the folk dances of Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, and Switzer-
land. Davidson said that the turkey trot was then introduced to the United States in 1880, by
Giovanni Casini, an Italian who traveled to San Francisco’s Barbary Coast.
Most commentators of the day, however, were skeptical that the ragtime dances had their
origin in classical dance. They asserted that such dances were too uncouth to claim such high-
brow pedigree. As one writer put it, “Some learned persons have endeavored to blame the mod-
ern dances on the ancient Greeks, which is very unkind. Probably the Greeks never would have
countenanced such vulgar perversions of a beautiful art. No, the Greeks are not responsible.”25
Some commentators suggested implausible explanations for the origins of ragtime. One,
for example, stated that the turkey trot was actually a cowboy dance. In 1907, he claimed, some
tourists from the East visited a “small cattle town in the far west” during roundup. The tourists
saw cowboys dancing in the local saloon. According to the author of the article, that dance was
the turkey trot. “The younger members of the party found at once what they had sought for
years, a new dance; the step was varied, also the contortions....”26 The tourists returned to New
York and, after practicing the dance, introduced it in Newport during the next spring season.
Another journalist claimed that the turkey trot was invented around 1911 in Pennsylvania
in “the rathskellers of Harrisburg.”27 There, in the state capitol, “...a number of the legislators
and flunkies perfected the dance and put their stamp on it in a way that has made it popular
and enchanting.”28 The article also related that “the Sultan of Turkey sent his agent to Harris-
burg to see if a modified style of the Turkey Trot could not be used in his harem with his reg-
ular oriental music.”29

Development and Dispersion

of the Animal Dances

From the saloons, dives, and dance halls of the Barbary Coast in San Francisco, animal
dances made their way to metropolitan centers in the East, such as Chicago, and New York.1
An article entitled “Origin and Spread of the Vivacious ‘Turkey Trot’” that appeared on Feb-
ruary 11, 1912 in a Montana newspaper, The Anaconda Standard, explained how the trot made
its way back East:

It was along the Barbary Coast, as San Francisco calls its collection of dance halls and dives, that
Mabel Hite and Mike Donlin discovered the turkey trot. They were in vaudeville out there and
looking for new ideas. They were taught how to perform the dance and brought their knowledge
eastward to Chicago. In May 1910, the Donlins were guests of honor at a party in the Hotel la
Salle given by Frances Demerest, Joe Smith, her husband; Jack Gardner and other New York stage
folk. In the middle of the supper the Donlin family got up and illustrated the turkey trot, much
to the amusement of the company. Smith, a producer of dances, at once spotted the commercial
possibilities of the freak. He asked Miss Hite to be careful about showing it around when she got
to New York, because he thought it would be the hit of a Broadway musical show. Then Miss
Hite was made the star of “A Certain Party” and George C Tyler of Liebler & Co. put on the
turkey trot at Wallack’s. Within a week the town was talking about the novelty. You met every-
where people who rocked their shoulders and dragged their feet.2

The Joe Smith mentioned in the above quote supports this story in a letter to the editor he
wrote to the New York Times dated January 17, 1914. “The turkey trot I first put on the stage,
and the first time it was danced was with the late Mable Hite and Mike Dolin in a ‘Certain Party’
production at Wallack’s Theatre over three years ago.”3
The musical A Certain Party,4 opened on Broadway on April 24, 1911 and was choreo-
graphed by Joseph C. Smith.5 The end of the second act featured Mabel Hite,6 Mike Donlin,7
and a group of chorines dancing to a number called “The Turkey Trot”— probably the first
official use of a ragtime dance on the Broadway stage.
Smith was not only a choreographer, but also a well-known exhibition dancer himself. Son
of America’s first premier male ballet dancer, George Washington Smith, he claimed to have
been the first to introduce both the turkey trot and the tango to American audiences. In his let-
ter to the Times, Smith states unequivocally that he was “...the first to introduce the turkey
trot.”8 He also says he rightfully can “claim the start of all this dancing.”9 As a performer Smith
appeared in many Broadway shows, but it is important to note that in 1912, he was in the cast
of Over the River,10 a show which some dance historians credit with introducing the grizzly bear
to Broadway audiences.
Some credit Smith with also helping to spread rag dancing’s popularity throughout Europe.
In June of 1911, Smith and his wife, Frances Demerest, were sailing to Europe when they encoun-
tered a group of college athletes who were traveling to England to compete in an international
meet. The young collegians saw the Smiths performing the turkey trot one evening in the salon

68 Part II. The Animal Dances

Joseph C. Smith with an uncredited partner. From The Tango and Other Up-to-Date Dances by J. S.
Hopkins (1914). In the original caption for this picture, Smith is listed as the “Originator of the Tango.”
7—Development and Dispersion of the Animal Dances 69

and begged Smith to teach them the snappy dance. According to the account, “for the rest of
the voyage everybody aboard from bridge to stokehole turkey trotted enthusiastically.”11
After arriving in England, Smith met with British theatrical producer George Edwardes,
and suggested that he include the trot in his newest musical, The Quaker Girl. “Mr. Edwardes
leaped at the suggestion and at once Joe Coyne and Gertie Miller began rehearsing the trot.”12
After that,
Smith went to Paris and taught the dance to Adelaide La Petite and Hughes. Then the turkey trot
jumped the Alps and got hold on the Italians, hurdled the Pyrenees and made a splash with the
Spanish. The Germans took it up and Berlin began to trot. Away up north in St. Petersburg the
fad attained popularity. Vaudeville sets abroad utilized it. Ethel Levey at the Alhambra and Bessie
Cayton turkey trotted industriously and the London papers said it was very quaint. Joe Smith
came back to New York with more money than he started with, but he didn’t get the rest he was
after. He had been too busy teaching the trot.13

Shortly after A Certain Party opened on Broadway, syncopated rag dancing sprang up in
other shows on the Great White Way. Florence Ziegfeld presented “Lillian Lorraine doing the
Texas Tommy, a full sister of the turkey trot”14 in his Follies. According to The Anaconda Stan-
Mr. Ziegfeld, tacking about the Barbary Coast one night seeking new follies for his New York
productions, observed in one of San Francisco’s most widely known resorts, “The Midway,” a
pair of mahogany finish dancers, rocking over the waxed floor in time to the syncopated beat of
snare drums and piano. He saw at once that here was a real novelty, something that would make
the dead watch at any Broadway show sit up and take a new interest in life. So he hired the dark
dancers to teach the turkey (for such it was) to his merry Follies.15

Around the same time, dancers Jim Lane and Edna Hunter performed the turkey trot in
Louis Werba’s & Mark Luescher’s production of Little Miss Fixit.16 Soon, there were “dozens of
musical comedy and vaudeville teams that took up the dance.”17

Lobster Palaces and Cabarets

At the end of the nineteenth century and during the first years of the twentieth century a
number of nightlife offerings sprang up in metropolitan centers. In New York City, in the area
that would later become known as Times Square, several upscale restaurants were opened. In
1897 Delmonico’s moved to Fifth Avenue and Forty-fourth Street and re-opened. The same year
the Palm Garden at the newly built Waldorf-Astoria opened on Thirty-fourth. Sherry’s opened
the following year across the street from Delmonico’s. Other opulent restaurants included Bus-
tanoby’s, Churchill’s, Martin’s, Maxim’s, Murray’s Roman Gardens, Rector’s, Reisenweber’s,
and Shanley’s. Called lobster palaces, a reference to the lavish late-light lobster dinners, these
sumptuous eateries featured ostentatiously decorated interiors, gourmet food, top-notch serv-
ice, and an opportunity for society to enjoy conspicuous consumption in its most glorified
In late 1911 and in the first months of 1912, in response to the economic slump that was
affecting local businesses, some of these New York establishments began experimenting with
offering light entertainment while dining, in hopes of attracting customers.18 The idea had first
been introduced in the spring of 1911. Two former vaudeville performers, turned producers,
had seen cabaret shows while in Paris and hit upon the idea of opening one of their own in the
States in the heart of the theatre district. Henry B. Harris and Jesse Lasky introduced their Folies
Bergere Theater which offered an intimate cabaret show from 11:15 P.M. to 1:00 A.M. after their
full-scale revue had finished. Their theatre/restaurant failed but the concept caught the eye of
70 Part II. The Animal Dances

a number of the lobster palace owners who were looking for new ways to bring in new busi-
During the dance craze of 1912 to 1916, these restaurants met the demand of a ragtime-
hungry public; owners cleared away some of the center tables and installed dance floors. “Danc-
ing not only offered diners the opportunity to participate in their own entertainment but also
enshrined the dance floor as a central part of the entertainment style of the cabaret.”19
The rise of cabaret society exerted a powerful influence on the development of social danc-
ing by moving it out of private homes and ballrooms and into the public sphere. Restaurants
that offered entertainment attracted a clientele that came from different classes and economic
backgrounds. The moneyed members of New York’s old families mingled with bankers, busi-
nessmen, and theatrical luminaries to enjoy the food, watch live entertainment, and trip the
light fantastic themselves. As the business of Broadway mushroomed during this period, tourists
who flocked to the Great White Way to see shows also wanted to experience a bit of the high
life in one of Times Square’s elegant eateries.
George Rector, owner of one of New York’s most popular restaurants during this time, spoke
about the necessity of installing a dance floor in his place: “All they wanted to do was dance,
and we accommodated them with a dance floor that measured thirty feet by twenty. The entire
1,500 all tried to dance on this postage stamp at the same time.”20 Rector recalled, “...the din-
ers would drop their knives and napkins the minute the orchestra broke loose, and stampede
for the dancing area. It looked like an elephant dancing on a butcher’s block. The couples were
jammed back to back, elbow to elbow, and cheek to neck”21
The crowded dance floors of these cabarets effected an important change in social danc-
ing. The limited space caused dancers to move more informally as they tried to avoid other cou-
ples. The turned-out classical foot positions of previous dances were replaced by a more natural
stance, with the feet facing forward. The close proximity of other dancers also brought about
the most visible, and to critics, the most shocking change — the close, hugging-type hold. Unlike
the ballrooms of the past, there was no dancing master calling out figures. Dancers could impro-
vise and express themselves freely. The strict rules of etiquette that had hobbled the ballrooms
of the nineteenth century were gone. Within the cabaret setting, couples could dance the entire
evening together without changing partners.
Around 1912, restaurant owners began experimenting with afternoon tea dances, known
as thé dansants, or sometimes as tango teas. These tea dances were immensely popular, espe-
cially with women, many of whom claimed to be shopping or visiting friends, while secretly
slipping in to dance without the knowledge of parents or spouses. The danger to their reputa-
tions added to the excitement. The management of these establishments often hired professional
male partners called gigolos to dance with unescorted women. The most popular gigolos were
Latins, their ethnicity considered many of the period to be a sign of their sensuality. Many
lower-class Italian and Jewish men made good livings after claiming to be Latin.
By World War I the tea dance had become a staple of hotels, cabarets, and roof-top gar-
dens. The New York Times described the phenomenon of “tea dispensed to the accompaniment
of ragtime.”22 The article explained how the hotel tea dance was first promoted by two women
in the summer of 1913. Some were scandalized by the notion, but the practice proved to be so
popular, “the dancing rooms were soon opened in many other hotels.”23 The public’s desire for
more and more places to dance led the Times to remark,

[N]ow only the first few hours of the day are kept sacred for sleep; with the result that we have
the luncheon dance, the tea dance, the supper dance, and the dance that begins at 1 o’clock in the
morning and keeps going as long as people want to stay up. So numerous have become the places
where one may go and rhythmically stretch one’s nether limbs with respectable and self-respect-
ing folk keeping company that to visit them all would fill months of afternoons and evenings.24
7—Development and Dispersion of the Animal Dances 71

One commentator was convinced that soon the dance craze would do away with sleep alto-
gether. He remarked, “We are already accustomed to the dance at the afternoon tea; how long
will it take before we are threatened by the dance at the breakfast coffee?”25

Exhibition Dancing
Responding to the public’s voracious appetite for dancing during this period, theatrical pro-
ducers began to feature exhibition dance acts in their shows. Broadway musicals always seemed
to include a specialty number, even if it had nothing to do with the plot. Vaudeville ballroom
dance teams were also in demand. Following the trend, restaurant and cabaret owners rushed
to hire the top exhibition ballroom dancers to satisfy their dance-hungry patrons. These dancers
typically performed two or three sets a night, after which the audience themselves got up on
the floor and tried out the latest steps they had just seen. Dance teams used the popular social
dances of the period and stylized them in a theatrical way to appeal to their audiences, thus
modifying and refining them. They also invented new dances that found their way in to the
social dance vocabulary that is still used today.
There were many favorite ballroom luminaries during this period. Joan Sawyer,26 nick-
named the “queen” of exhibition dancing, was perhaps one of the most highly paid and suc-
cessful female dancers. She had many partners including Maurice Mouvet, John Jarrot,27 Benne
Dixon, Carlos Sebastian, George Raft, and in vaudeville, a young Rudolph Valentino.28 Sawyer
appeared in several New York cabarets, such as the El Fey, Louis Martin’s, and the Jardin de
Danse. In 1914, she was hired by the Shuberts to be general manager and hostesses of The Per-
sian Garden, a dance club on top of the Winter Garden building. There she presented her wildly
popular Persian Garden tango, as well as her own creations, the Aeroplane Waltz, the Three In
One, and a dance she named after herself called the Joanelle. In 1913, Sawyer with her partner
Lew Quinn reportedly introduced the rhumba to American audiences.
Another well-known ballroom dancer was Mae Murray,29 whose “performances were her-
alded as much for their dramatic postures and lavish clothing as for their dancing.”30 Murray
traditionally danced with a long scarf draped around her neck, a practice soon imitated by many
other female ballroom dancers. Murray had supposedly traveled to Paris to study the latest
dances, and upon her return to the United States, enjoyed success dancing in New York’s most
exclusive nightclubs such as William Morris’ Jardin de Danse. She eventually served as mistress
of ceremonies at the Folies Marigny rooftop garden cabaret above the Forty-fourth Street The-
atre in 1914. The club was a popular nightspot and had a dance floor that could hold up to
ninety couples at once.31 Murray did her exhibition dances there every night throughout the
spring of 1914. She had many partners, although her most famous pairing was with Clifton
Webb.32 The duo usually opened their act with the Brazilian maxixe, followed by Mae Murray’s
own version of the hesitation waltz. They closed with a dance called the Cinquante-Cinquante,
a dance similar to the Half and Half, made famous by Vernon and Irene Castle. For their encore,
Murray and Webb did the Pavlowa Gavotte, a dance created by Anna Pavlowa. In addition to
their run at the Folies Marigny, Mae Murray and Clifton Webb had great success touring vaude-
Webb had previously partnered another popular dancer, Bonnie Glass. Glass had seen Webb
at the Jardin de Danse when he was out dancing socially. She auditioned him and he joined her
act. They became a well-known exhibition team on the club and vaudeville circuits, and the
two were romantically linked. Although he had training as a show dancer, he learned ballroom
from his partners. He had performed in musical comedies as a young man, but he did not gain
real notice as a performer until he began dancing in cabarets. In addition to dancing in clubs,
72 Part II. The Animal Dances

Joan Sawyer and Carlos Sebastian dancing the Maxixe. From The Tango and Other Up-to-Date Dances
by J. S. Hopkins (1914).
7—Development and Dispersion of the Animal Dances 73

John (Jack) Jarrott and Louise Alexander. From The Tango and Other Up-to-Date Dances by J. S. Hop-
kins (1914).
74 Part II. The Animal Dances

Webb became a sought after performer in major revues and musicals. “Critics marveled at
Webb’s versatility; in these shows and others that followed he demonstrated his penchant for
both straight exhibition ballroom and comic-eccentric dances. Webb, in fact, often resisted the
label of ballroom dancer, since his dancing covered such a broad range, but clearly his ballroom
prowess brought him the recognition he needed to further his career.”33
After Clifton Webb and Bonnie Glass dissolved their partnership, she hired another male
dancer to fill his spot — Rudolph Valentino. Throughout 1915 and 1916, the team billed as “Bon-
nie Glass and Rudolpho,” did their act at the Montmartre Café, a club that Glass managed. They
also toured across the country on the Keith vaudeville circuit eventually ending up as the head-
liners at the Palace Theatre in New York.
The husband and wife ballroom team of John Murray Anderson34 and Genevieve Lyon
were an exceptionally popular act in cabarets and revues. Anderson ran one of the top dance
schools in New York and, at one point, employed Martha Graham as one of his teachers. The
couple served as advisors on the book Social Dances of Today, an instructional dance manual
written by Margaret and Troy West-Kinney and considered to be one of the most important
social dance teaching aids of the period. After his wife died in 1916, John Murray Anderson left
exhibition ballroom dancing and became an enormously successful producer, director, author,
lyricist, lighting designer, and theatrical entrepreneur, working in vaudeville, in the circus, on
the Broadway stage, and in films. He also ran an acting school in Manhattan that included
among its students Lucille Ball and Bette Davis.
The Dolly Sisters35 were identical twins who danced with many male partners separately,
but created the greatest sensation when they performed a tandem act with each other. Favorites
of the cabaret set, they were ballroom dancers who commanded the public’s adoration with their
beauty and unique duo and trio dances. They performed at William Morris’ Jardin de Danse.
In the finale of their act there, they danced with Carlos Sebastian while wearing pony masks. He
was dressed as a ring master and maneuvered them around the stage as they trotted a one-step.
The two most famous teams— Maurice Mouvet and Florence Walton, and Vernon and
Irene Castle — became international celebrities, icons whose every move affected the tastes and
fashions of the day. E. B. Marks compared the two couples; “...the Castles were a sprite and a
steel spring; Maurice and Walton were a tiger and a woman.”36
Maurice Mouvet,37 often referred to as simply Maurice or Monsieur Maurice, was born in
New York City to parents of Belgian extract. He had swarthy, exotic good looks; many thought
he was Latin and therefore something of a womanizer. His association with the apache dance
furthered the perception that there was something slightly dangerous and passionate about him.
In reality he was a proponent of grace and restraint when performing.
Mouvet is sometimes credited with introducing many of the major rag dances to America
although he himself always maintained that he did not. In a letter to the editor of The New York
Times on January 25, 1912, he declared, “I have not brought to America that dance they call the
‘turkey trot,’ not the ‘grizzly bear,’ not the ‘bunny hug.’ In fact, until I arrived here I did not
know of these dances....”38 Mouvet also asserted he did not teach these dances. He did intro-
duce many new dances though, including the junkman rag and the Brazilian maxixe. He was
also a major innovator of the American tango.
Maurice Mouvet first gained notoriety in 1907 when he introduced his version of the danse
des Apaches39 at the Café de Paris in Paris. A violent dance that mimicked a street fight, the
apache dance was associated with the lower class street gangs of Paris. Mouvet claimed to have
learned this “Dance of the Underworld” from the original gang members known as the “Gun-
men of Paris.”40 Although he was not the first to introduce the dance to the United States, Mou-
vet became the dancer most associated with the dance and was its chief proponent.41 He did the
dance with all of his various partners, but when he performed it with Florence Walton42 the audi-
7—Development and Dispersion of the Animal Dances 75

Maurice Mouvet and Florence Walton. From The Tango and Other Up-to-Date Dances by J. S. Hopkins
76 Part II. The Animal Dances

ences went wild. Always part of their cabaret act, the dance was performed only for late-night
customers at the cabaret. “[It] began with a slow waltz and concluded with a death-defying spin,
in which Walton clutched her arms around her partner’s neck and whirled around him like ‘a
floating sash.’”43
Mouvet was first partnered with Walton in 1911 when Florence Ziegfeld hired them for his
production of The Pink Lady at the New Amsterdam Theatre. The two married in 1911 and
became one of the most successful ballroom exhibition teams, rivaling Vernon and Irene Cas-
tle.44 Mouvet and Walton eventually divorced in 1920. His next partner was Leonora Hughes,
but she left the act to marry Argentine millionaire Carlos Ortiz Balsualdo in 1925.45 Mouvet
then teamed up with Barbara Bennett, sister of movie star Constance Bennett. They separated
within the year and Mouvet hired Eleanor Ambrose, daughter of a Kansas City oilman, to
replace her. In 1926, the two were wed in Paris and danced at the St. Moritz until consumption
forced Mouvet to move to the Alps for his health.

Vernon and Irene Castle

Society dancers Vernon and Irene Castle46 were perhaps the most emulated and influen-
tial ballroom couple of the era. In 1915, the Dramatic Mirror referred to the husband and wife
team as “our supreme ballroom artists, possessing distinction, intelligence, delicacy of dance,
and what is termed in the varieties—class”47
The Castles first achieved success in the summer of 1911 in Paris where they performed in
a sketch for the French musical stage. The revue’s initial opening was postponed many times,
but finally occurred in March, and the Castles included the grizzly bear in a number they did
at the end of the show. According to Irene Castle, her mother had sent her clippings from the
newspapers that described the grizzly bear. She recalled, “We decided, as a finale to the show,
to introduce French audiences to the latest American dance furor. Unfortunately we had not
seen the latest American dances and had only the vague newspaper descriptions to go by.”48
Although the Castles improvised the dance, the response was overwhelming:
If the American version was rough, ours was even rougher, full of so many acrobatic variations
that I was in the air much more often than I was on the ground. The French audience was enthu-
siastic. They stomped their feet and clapped their hands and yelled “Bravo.” They stood up at the
end of the number and cried out “greezly bahr” until we appeared again.”49

Despite their success, they decided to quit the revue because of the wretched conditions at
the theatre. Two months after leaving the show, the couple was completely broke. They were
then approached by Louis Barraya, who offered them an opportunity to dance at the Café de
Paris, the most luxurious supper club in France. The first night, Irene Castle performed in her
wedding gown because it was the only garment she had that resembled evening clothes. Her
gown had a train and Irene had to pin it up to keep from tripping on it. The dress forced the
couple to tone down their moves. In addition, the dance area was miniscule, “like dancing in
the aisle of a Pullman car.”50 The couple quickly won over the audience with their restraint and
refinement, qualities that would become the hallmark of their dancing.51 As their fame grew, the
couple was invited to dance at private soirées, sometimes as many as three a night, before end-
ing the night with their performance at the Café de Paris.52
In 1912, with their reputations preceding them, they returned to the United States. They
brought with them a letter of introduction from Louis Barraya, owner of the Café de Paris in
Paris, personally addressed to Louis Martin at the Café de l’Opera in New York. They presented
the letter and when asked their rate, they demanded the exorbitant fee of three hundred dol-
7—Development and Dispersion of the Animal Dances 77

Vernon and Irene Castle. From The Tango and Other Up-to-Date Dances by J. S. Hopkins (1914).
78 Part II. The Animal Dances

lars a week to perform at the club. Initially, an outraged Martin refused, but within a few days
offered them a contract.53 Included in the deal was a suite of rooms on the fourth floor of the club
where the Castles lived. Every night the Castles danced and audiences flocked to see them.
The Castles’ charm and polish as they glided across the floor made them favorites with upper
class society, and hundreds clamored to see them perform and to take lessons from them. In
1913, with the help of literary agent and socialite Elizabeth Marbury,54 they opened Castle House,
a dance studio with mirrored ballrooms.55 Located across from the Ritz Carlton Hotel, the exclu-
sive dancing school catered to the most elite clientele and served as a gathering place for young
socialites interested in learning the intricacies of the latest dance steps. New York’s most promi-
nent matrons, among them Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish, Miss Elsie De Wolfe, and Mrs. W. G. Rocke-
feller, embraced the young couple, becoming patronesses of the school and inviting them to
dance at their private soirées.56 In addition to Castle House, the couple’s connections with the
upper echelon led them to open their own cabarets— in late 1913, the Sans Souci; in 1914, Cas-
tles in the Air; and in 1915, Castles-by-the-Sea. They performed at their own clubs, but also in
other venues across the country, appearing in musical comedies,57 vaudeville, regional tours,
cabarets and restaurants. They appeared in a newsreel entitled Social and Theatrical Dancing in
1914 and the following year starred in their own film biography, The Whirl of Life.
With the franchising of their name, stores carried everything from Castle corsets and cigars
to Castle cosmetics and clothing. They became spokespersons for Victrola records and record
players and issued Castle dance records featuring the Castle House Orchestra led by jazz pio-
neer James Reese Europe.58
Irene Castle became one of the most written about women of the day, her every move set-
ting new fashion trends. Her sense of style and views on fashion caused many to dub her “the
best dressed woman in America.” She advocated for less binding clothes for the modern woman
declaring that as dancing came to the forefront in present society, it demanded more sensible
styles for women.
She believed that the power of the dance would force cruel corsets, tight shoes, hats like peach
baskets, heavy petticoats, and stiff-boned collars to give way to easy-moving skirts with slits in
them, collarless frocks, and subtly cut, free-falling gowns.59
When she cut her hair after getting appendicitis, she set in motion a trend in hair-styles that
ten years later became the trademark of the flapper in the 1920’s. The Castle clip led millions of
women to bob their hair.60
Because of their refined elegance and decorum, the Castles helped remove many of the neg-
ative reactions to modern social dancing. They were instrumental in combating ragtime’s con-
nections to lower-class origins and the animal dances’ association with vulgarity and impropriety.
The Castles made dancing an acceptable, respectable pastime, and they graciously reigned over
the dancing craze that captured the world during the second decade of the twentieth century.
The couple authored dozens of articles on dance, fashion, and etiquette. Their instruc-
tional best-seller, Modern Dancing, was one of the first books to cover modern ballroom danc-
ing. In addition to refining many rag dances, they invented the Castle Walk,61 the half and half,
the innovation, and other dances. They made fashionable the glide, the hesitation waltz, and
the maxixe, and in 1914, when they appeared on Broadway in Irving Berlin’s Watch Your Step,
they popularized the foxtrot. Some sources credit them with inventing it.

Dance Madness at All Levels of Society

From 1910 to 1917, dance fever gripped the world. All levels of society were either dancing
or talking about it themselves. No one was immune from the influence of ragtime. And, if one
7—Development and Dispersion of the Animal Dances 79

Vernon and Irene Castle. From The Tango and Other Up-to-Date Dances by J. S. Hopkins (1914).
80 Part II. The Animal Dances

wanted to be up-to-date, one had to tango and trot. As one commentator pointed out, “...what’s
to become of the poor boob who doesn’t dance? Social outcast, poor fellow.”62
As more and more thronged dance halls, clubs, and ballrooms, the demand for new mate-
rial grew. Dances were created with stunning rapidity. Every week, it seemed, a new dance was
introduced. The headline in one newspaper reported, “Dancing Masters are in a Quandary Over
What Bird or Beast to Imitate in Search of a New Dancing Sensation.”63
In his book, Maurice’s Art of Dancing, Maurice Mouvet mentioned a typical cartoon that
appeared in 1914:
Young man meets his friend rushing breathlessly from studio of well known dancing teacher:
Young man: “Where are you going in such a hurry, Tom?”
Tom (frantically): “Oh, for Heaven’s sake, don’t stop me! I must get to the thé dansant before
the newest step I just learned has become completely old-fashioned.”64

In addition to catching high society’s fancy, dancing also played an important part in the
lives of working-class youth, especially young working women.65 Thousands of day-laborers,
factory workers, shopgirls, and secretaries flocked to the local dance-hall, which became the pri-
mary cultural and social center of lower and middle class workers. By 1910, over 500 dance halls
had opened in New York City. In the lower East Side alone, a dance hall could be found every
two and a half blocks.
Dance halls played an important role in the lives of these young workers, offering them a
place to meet others of the opposite sex in a safe, but un-chaperoned atmosphere. Meeting at
the dance hall was considered “modern.” It challenged the old stereotypes about the roles of
men and women, and promoted new attitudes about leisure, sexuality, modernity, and personal
identity. “Many young women, particularly the daughters of immigrants, came to identify ‘cheap
amusements’ as the embodiment of American urban culture, particularly its individualism, ide-

A 1910 postcard of a ballroom in Santa Cruz, California.

7—Development and Dispersion of the Animal Dances 81

ology of consumption, and affirmation of dating and courtship outside parental control.”66 The
growth of the dance hall industry was synonymous with the emergence of the new American
woman: modern, independent, strong, and sexual.67 For women who were subjected to the
grind of working in the labor force during this era, dancing provided an escape, a chance “to
forget rattling machinery or irritating customers in the nervous energy and freedom of the griz-
zly bear and turkey trot....”68 Many young working-women saw dancing as an opportunity to
find a husband. Some saw it as a means of moving up in the world. By following the habits of
society’s elite — doing the kinds of dances that were in vogue and imitating the fashions of the
day as best they could — they thought they could somehow improve their social status and per-
haps, in the process, attract a man of higher social standing. Dancing represented hope for many
young women trapped in the drudgery of a mundane existence.
Keeping current with the latest trends in dancing was almost a requirement. Many factory
workers viewed it as a way to forge friendships among each other, recounting the previous
evenings pleasures with one’s fellow workers, and demonstrating and practicing the latest steps
during breaks. Management often ignored discreet discussions on such topics, but usually dis-
couraged outright demonstrations on company property, fearing they might adversely reflect
on the company’s image.
The most well-known case in point occurred at the Curtis Publishing Company in Philadel-
phia. Sixteen employees were terminated after they were found practicing the turkey trot on
the third floor of the Ladies Home Journal building during their lunch break.
The 16 were discovered at the noon hour engaged in this terpsichorean specialty, much to the dis-
gust of Edward Bok, the editor, who promptly informed the superintendent of the department
that the company could dispense with the services of the girls who could so far forget themselves
as to engage in such dances even among themselves.... In the meantime there will be no more
“turkey trots,” “bunny hugs,” or “grizzly bears,” at least while Mr. Bok is in the building.69

Although the girls felt they were treated unfairly because the event occurred during their
lunch hour, and some of them asked to be reinstated, the editor did not budge from his deci-
More and more working girls embraced the trotting dances as a way of expressing their
independence and modernity. As the girls mimicked the dances, fashions, and habits of the
upper classes, the upper classes became concerned that these working girls, who had not had
the advantage of a proper upbringing and therefore did not understand restraint, were falling
victim to the dance’s darker nature.

Fashion and Music of the Animal Dances

The second decade of the twentieth century brought with it a period of frenetic change as
the world moved into the modern era. Industrialization mushroomed and with it labor unrest.
In the United States, the emergence of the middle class brought dramatic social changes as
Americans looked for ways to express their newfound affluence. Seeking excitement and moder-
nity, people saw new fashions, new music, and new dances as symbols of social standing and
success. Progressive education, rights for minorities, prohibition, socialism, birth control, and
women’s suffrage were the hot topics of the day.
In the midst of this social unrest, the world was plunged into the Great War. Countries
were forced out of isolationism and onto the international stage. Naïve traditions and outmoded
values were challenged. The world was changing, and so were its dances. The waltz was set aside
and trotting took its place. A leading psychologist of the day saw “grave dangers in the univer-
sal craze for sensuous dances.” He warned, “No one can doubt that true dangers are near wher-
ever the dancing habit is prominent ... overemphasis on dancing has usually characterized a
period of political reaction, of indifference to public life, of social stagnation and carelessness.
When the volcanoes were rumbling the masses were always dancing.”1 And the masses were danc-
ing — keeping in step with the infectious rhythm of ragtime.

Ragtime Music
Ragtime was at the height of its popularity between 1899 and 1918 and is considered to be
“the first truly American musical genre.”2 It was basically created from a combination of Euro-
pean musical forms and African dance rhythms and syncopations. The harmonic and tonal
structure of ragtime was also influenced by the march, first introduced in minstrel show cake-
walks and walk-arounds and further popularized with military bands at the turn of the cen-
tury. Ragtime differed from the basic cakewalk march in its use of syncopation; the bass hand
kept a steady metrical beat, but the melody emphasized off beat accents.3 “The ultimate (and
intended) effect on the listener [was] actually to accentuate the beat, thereby inducing the lis-
tener to move to the music.”4
Ragtime began primarily as instrumental dance music. As it grew in popularity, composers
began adding lyrics to the syncopated melodies. Ragtime was then disseminated through sheet
music. The new musical style flourished, aided by the growth of the music publishing indus-
try, which simplified ragtime, so the buying public could play it more easily.5 Tin Pan Alley was
born and ragtime songwriters flooded the market with new tunes.
One of the earliest published ragtime songs, “La Pas Ma La,” was composed by African
American minstrel dancer and comedian, Ernest Hogan,6 in 1895, and was accompanied by a
comedy dance step which consisted of a walk forward and three hops back. An article in the
Spirit Lake Beacon, which appeared on February 2, 1906, spoke of the song and dance:

8—Fashion and Music of the Animal Dances 83

The author of the new dance was Ernest Hogan, who afterward gained a measure of fame for
other songs he composed, but when asked what his initial effort meant he said “ragtime.” Ernest
Hogan is the “father of ragtime,” for “Pas-ma-la” was the first effort of this kind that ever
attracted general attention.7
Hogan also wrote and published the hit “All Coons Look Alike To Me,”8 which sold over
one million copies and started a craze in “coon songs”— a genre of racially derogatory songs.9
Hogan was heavily criticized by members of his own race for writing the song, and he expressed
deep shame for having fostered negative stereotypes. Composer E. B. Marks wrote, “Hogan
died haunted by the awful crime he had unwittingly committed against the race.”10
The coon song, although today recognized as racially divisive and deeply offensive, was
largely responsible for bringing ragtime to a larger, more diverse audience and helping to fuel
the ragtime dance craze by popularizing ragtime music.
There were many important ragtime composers, including Scott Joplin, Tony Jackson, Jelly
Roll Morton, Willie Bloom, Ben Harney, and numerous others— too numerous to mention here.
One in particular though is closely identified with helping to popularize the animal dance
craze — Irving Berlin.
In 1911, when the young composer was invited to join the Friar’s Club, he presented as part
of his initiation entertainment a song called “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” The tune eventually
became one of the biggest ragtime hits of its day. The same year, Berlin wrote a song that
became the anthem of the animal dance craze —“Everybody’s Doin’ It Now.” Part of the lyric
Honey, honey, can’t you hear?
Funny, funny music, dear
Ain’t the funny strain goin’ to your brain?
Like a bottle of wine, fine
Hon,’ hon,’ hon,’ hon,’ take a chance
One, one one, one little dance
Can’t you see them all swaying up the hall?
Let’s be gettin’ in line
Ev’rybody’s doin’ it, doin’ it, doin’ it
Ev’rybody’s doin’ it, doin’ it, doin’ it
See that ragtime couple over there
Watch them throw their shoulders in the air
Snap their fingers, honey, I declare
It’s a bear, it’s a bear, it’s a bear, there!11
In 1912, Berlin’s song was used in the Broadway production of Over the River, a show many
historians credit with introducing the grizzly bear to the general public. The production also
featured other ragtime dances. In a review of the show, The New York Times reported, “...all
the dances from the turkey trot to the tango, are exposed to the eye, by no less person than Mau-
rice [Mouvet], (direct from the Café de Paris and Louis Martins.)”12
Not all musicians embraced the new ragtime musical style. Edward B. Perry, a classical
musician of the period compared rag to “a dog with rabies.”13 Another critic said it was like a
cheap crime novel “full of bangs and explosions, devised in order to shake up the overworked
The American Federation of Musicians adopted a resolution against ragtime dancing and
went on record as against the publication and distribution of ragtime music declaring that it
would have a degrading effect on public morals and impugn the art of music in general. Union
members of Local 309 in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin called the new music disgusting and called
for a total ban. They also cited concerns that if ragtime kept growing in popularity, it would
decrease their work because many of the members had trouble playing ragtime.
84 Part II. The Animal Dances
8—Fashion and Music of the Animal Dances 85

Many blamed the dances of the day on the music. The La Crosse Tribune, stated, “...rag-
time music is responsible for ragtime dances, and if the charge is true it constitutes another
indictment against the degeneracy of melody.”15
Some songwriters of the period reacted to the onslaught of ragtime songs and dances by
publishing anti-rag songs. “My Anti Rag-time Girl” was one such attempt to combat the trend.
Written by Elsie Janis, the 1913 song honored the pure young girl —“the kind your mother would
have liked to have you know,”16 who shunned ragtime dances. The chorus of this song was,
She won’t do the Bunny Hug,
nor dance the Grizzly Bear,
She hasn’t learned the Turkey Trot
and somehow doesn’t care.
For chasing round the restaurants
she doesn’t care a fig,
She can’t tell a Tango
from a Can Can or a Jig
She don’t wave her shoulders
when the band plays “It-chy-koo;”
The “Wedding Glide” don’t make her senses whirl.
But bet that she’s right there
on some sweet old fashioned air,
Like “Genevieve, sweet Genevieve.”
She’s my little Anti Rag-time Girl.17

Ragtime’s widespread appeal was perhaps due to its cross-cultural use of both European
and African traditions, a combination that resulted in a purely American sound. It was “a rural
folk music transposed to an urban and industrial context, where its machine-like rhythms
became an expression of lost innocence of bygone days and ways.”18 Most importantly, it was

Ragtime Fashion
When the Ballets Russes presented Scheherazade in Paris in 1910, Orientalism came into
vogue and dame fashion responded. Espoused by designer Paul Poiret, this Eastern influence
was evidenced by the use of full pantaloons or flowing skirts topped with long tunics tied with
a sash. The wearing of turbans or bandeaus with feather spikes, also insinuated the Asian
influence. During this period waistlines were generally high, just under the bustline, and nar-
row skirts with short draping overskirts were also popular. Referred to as lampshade skirts, these
overskirts were sometimes wired to hang like a lampshade from the waist.
By 1914, hobble skirts came into fashion. These dresses also drew heavily upon Eastern
influences, with the tight bottom hems of the skirts suggesting the bottoms of harem pants.
They usually measured only about three feet around at the bottom, and at times were so nar-
row, walking in them was almost impossible. Some women actually tied their legs together with
cord, fearing that the skirt would split if their stride were too wide.
Some articles of the day suggest that trotting dances were initially shaped by the short, jerky
steps that women had to utilize while wearing a hobble skirt. Fashion icon Irene Castle initially
wore a hobble skirt herself while dancing, but found it so difficult to move in, she quickly
adopted simple, free-flowing gowns. When the new dresses proved to be much more comfort-

Opposite: These 1912 postcards comically represent four of the most popular animal dances of the day.
The title of the series is from Irving Berlin’s ragtime anthem “Everybody’s Doing it Now.”
86 Part II. The Animal Dances

Early twentieth century British postcard of a ragtime couple.

8—Fashion and Music of the Animal Dances 87

able to move in, Castle also began wearing similar styles for her everyday wear. Newspapers
remarked that she resembled a noble French Revolutionary heroine. Because of her enormous
popularity with the public, she did indeed lead something of a revolution in women’s fashion.
By the summer of 1913, many women were abandoning the constricting hobble skirt and started
experimenting with the Grecian-inspired “Castle frock.”
As dance mania gripped the world, fashion struggled to keep up. Trains were eliminated,
and to allow freedom of the legs and make movement easier, the split skirt was introduced.
Conservative factions reacted with horror.
Two girls wearing slit skirts were walking down the street in New York City with two of
their friends when they were heckled by other girls. The insults resulted in a brawl in which
“many cheeks were scratched and much hair was pulled.” The scuffle finally resulted in the
police being called. The four girls were arrested along with the fifteen-year-old who started the
catcalls, Miss May Gross. All five were put in the patrol wagon, which “gave the four a splen-
did chance to pummel their critic, and they were busily engaged in making the most of this
when the police pried them apart.”19
In Annapolis, Maryland, a bill was introduced in the House of Delegates that prohibited
the wearing of slit skirts. The bill included instructions that “money collected from fines for
violating its provisions shall be used to ‘educate girls how to dress decently.’”20 In Richmond
Virginia, Blossom Browning was fined twenty-five dollars and driven out of town after she
appeared in a slit skirt on the city streets and “startled Mayor Ainslie and Chief of Police
Werner.”21 Miss Browning told the court that the gown was in fashion and had been purchased
at a licensed department store, and besides, she liked it. When that defense failed, she informed
them that the slit in her skirt had been basted shut, but that the stitches had ripped. The Mayor
and Chief of Police testified that her pretty little ankle proved otherwise, and Miss Browning
was ordered to pay the fine and was driven out of Richmond.
The Chief of Police of Louisville, Kentucky issued orders calling for the arrest of any woman
who wore a slit skirt who didn’t also have a protective undergarment covering the leg. He stated,
“A number of women have been appearing upon the streets in Louisville in dresses which the
laws of decency forbid, and I believe this is disorderly conduct ... where a flagrant exposure is
made it is the duty of the police to make arrests.”22 The Chief also commented, however, that
he didn’t think it would do much good because “women who have the ‘nerve’ to appear on the
streets in slit dresses will not mind ‘a little thing like a Police Court trial.’”23
The Rev. H. T. Walsh called the slit skirt dresses “monstrosities” and announced from his
pulpit at the Church of Our Lady of Mercy in New Britain, Connecticut that he would refuse
communion to any woman who approached the alter in such garb. In Atlantic City, Mrs. Charles
Lanning appeared on the beach in a bathing suit that had long skirt with slits on each side.
Passersby began to throw sand at her until a crowd of two hundred men had surrounded her.
The lifeguards “formed a flying wedge and broke through the mob”24 only to find Mrs. Lanning
lying unconscious on the ground with the crowd still pelting her with sand. She was rushed to
the hospital with the crowd following her “to get another glimpse of the suit.”25 After the vic-
tim had recovered and was released, she saw the huge crowd gathered outside the hospital and
promptly fainted.
Opinion was divided. Although some women viewed the new styles as scandalously
improper, many responded to the new freedom offered by the slit skirt and quickly embraced
the changes. Even some men supported the reforms. When citizens started a campaign to bar
the slit skirt in Kansas City, Missouri, the head Judge of the Criminal Court Ralph Latshaw issued
this statement: “There is nothing immoral in the slit skirt, diaphanous gown, or any other pres-
ent form of women’s attire. Narrow skirts and trim figures do not mean immorality, as some
insist.” The judge added, “The women of to-day have only one idea in view — to dress in a man-
88 Part II. The Animal Dances

An early twentieth century postcard of a turkey trotting couple. The lady wears a fashionable hobble
skirt and a Dutch cap made popular by Irene Castle.
8—Fashion and Music of the Animal Dances 89

ner that appeals to men. Well hasn’t it always been so?”26 Nevertheless, as a concession to mod-
esty, Irene Castle suggested combining the split skirt with a plaited petticoat underneath. Thus,
when turning or dipping the legs would be free to execute the figures of the dance, but still remain
chastely covered. She added, “The openings in a skirt of this sort can be fastened with tiny
glove-snaps, so that on the street the wearer may appear to have the usual narrow costume, while
at the same time she has a practical one for the daily thé dansant.”27
In addition to slits, the overall silhouette of gowns was also altered because of demands of
the dance. Tight sleeves constricted range of motion and so soft loose blouses with full sleeves
became popular. Collars were eliminated and gowns became lower cut in both the front and
back to offer greater freedom. Choice of material was also affected. Softer, lighter, more
diaphanous fabrics were used.28 Castle said, “...the demand of the women who dance is, ‘Give
me something soft and light.’”29 In her book Modern Dancing she reminds her readers,
The costume for the modern dances is a very important feature. A gown that is stiff or bunchy in
its lines and does not fall softly will make even the most graceful dancer seem awkward and
uncouth, and no amount of skill in stepping intricate measures can obviate the ugliness of a
pump slipping off at the heel in the pretty dips or twirls of the dance.30

In addition to changes in fashion silhouettes, innovations in undergarments were also

brought about by the new ragtime dances. Stiff whale-boned corsets were abandoned and one-
piece combination bloomer/brassiere and softer elastic girdles were worn instead. Irene Castle
stated, “ ...all these precautions as to the outward gowning are wasted if you continue to wear
the long, stiff corsets ... no amount of grace, no amount of clever training, and no amount of
the knowledge of the most intricate steps will help you to dance charmingly unless your corset
has ‘give’ in it and allows you to move with supple ease and comfort.”31 She recommended the
Castle Corset, which supported, yet conformed to the natural figure. Because under petticoats
were typically made of chiffon or similar filmy material, light or colored stockings that matched
the shoes or gown were substituted for the dark heavy stockings worn in the previous era. Stock-
ings were adorned with colored gems, lace, embroidery, “and, of course, all kinds of clocks and
butterflies to draw attention to a slender foot and ankle.”32
As hemlines inched slightly upward, shoes became a prominent fashion item. For danc-
ing, shoes had to be comfortable and fastened securely. Castle herself usually wore either pumps
tied with ribbons, or soft leather boots that reached up to just below the knee. She recom-
mended that the average woman wear “...a pump with a moderate heel, fastened about the ankle
with ribbons which cross the leg several times.” She said, “This gives the impression of the
Greek dancing-sandals, and also accentuates the slenderness of the ankles.”33
In 1913, in Boston, a unique “dancing pump made only for use in executing the tango, turkey
trot, bunny hug or a few other of the fancy dances that are raging around the country in high
popularity”34 appeared on the scene. First introduced on the campus of Harvard University, the
shoe featured a rubber inset to prevent slipping on the dance floor. An article in the Lowell Sun
in Lowell Massachusetts explained, “Directly beneath the spot where the ball rests there is a
lump of corrugated rubber which looks like the half section of a goose egg. This, firmly fas-
tened to the sole of either foot, permits the wearer to tango or trot to his heart’s content with-
out fearing the sort of catastrophe which is commonly preceded by pride.”35 The non-skid shoes
cost $10.00 a pair.
Irene Castle’s influence sparked many fashion innovations. In 1914, after being pho-
tographed wearing riding jodhpurs, fashionable women added them to their everyday wardrobes.
She also initiated the fashion of wearing Dutch bonnets. Perhaps her most lasting influence was
when she cut her hair before having her appendix removed, and women around the world started
bobbing their hair. Those that kept their hair long, adopted simpler coiffures because they didn’t
90 Part II. The Animal Dances

“become untidy when dancing.”36 Picture hats also fell victim to the dance. As Irene Castle
declared, “Big hats are unpleasant to dance in.”37
In 1914, with the outbreak of World War I, hemlines began to inch up largely due to short-
ages in fabric. As women entered the workforce, overskirts and tunics also became fuller, and
confining underskirts were eliminated, creating a simpler, freer silhouette. Waistlines dropped
to the natural waist. By 1915, skirt length had risen above the ankle and was hailed as patriotic,
earning the name “war crinoline” by the fashion periodicals.

Reaction to the Animal Dances

On August 24, 1913, the Oakland Tribune featured a commentary in its society section enti-
tled “Suzette’s Views on Society and Dancing.” The column’s society writer observed,
Anything connected with dancing is of instant interest. No one seems ever to tire of the subject.
All over the world the dance is on. Everybody dances. The “dasante” has swept Europe. It has
invaded New York. In cafes and cabarets the professional dancers no longer hold the center of the
stage — they are simply crowded on side — everybody is a professional —for every one thinks he
can dance well. It is quite, as a clever woman writes from New York, “Everybody Trots.”1
Between 1911 and 1914, when the ragtime dances were at the height of their popularity, it
did indeed seem that everyone was trotting. One paper reported, “If you happen to be staying
late in a Broadway restaurant, you will see couples totting on their way to the coat room, trot-
ting while the hat boy earns his tip, trotting as they are helped into their wraps and finally trot-
ting across the sidewalk into a taxi to the high amusement of the policeman. Possibly they
resume trotting as soon as the taxi deposits them at their homes.”2
Society embraced the syncopated dances at balls, at tea dances, and at late night roof-top
gardens; the working class flooded dances halls to dance the turkey trot, the bunny hug, and
grizzly bear. The dances were also a staple on Broadway, in vaudeville, and at cabaret perform-
ances. The syncopation of the new dances was infectious. Newspaper accounts of the day were
full of anecdotes about who was dancing what and where. The New York Times, for example,
reported on the delayed departure of a train at Union Station when two stars of the Boston opera
danced the modern dances on the station platform. No one seemed to mind. “The conductor
with his right hand raised to give the ‘high ball’ sign, stood rigid, the fireman let his steam go
down, and the porters dropped the suitcases and all stared and smiled while the two songbirds
tripped daintily through a maze of baggage trucks and mail bags.”3
Meanwhile, physicians, psychologists, and commentators sought to explain why this danc-
ing craze held so many in its thrall. Some blamed the rhythm.
The turkey trot appeals to that primitive instinct, that universal sense of rhythm which is part of
the fiber of our being.... Just feel the rhythm. One, one, one, one, one, one.... Just stand up, bend
your knees a little, relax your muscles and let yourself go. Can you keep still? Doesn’t some prim-
itive sense of rhythm in you leap out in response to the beating summons? One, one, one, one,
one, one, one, one.... That is why the one-step —call it turkey trot, tango, grizzly bear, horse trot,
what you will — will live.4
Others blamed the growing social unrest of the time.
The dancing epidemic which the country is witnessing recalls in some respects the dancing mania
of the middle ages.... The ragtime and turkey trot manias appear to be contagious in much the
same way that the medieval manias were.... These neurotic phenomena have been asserted to
widespread neurasthenia due to unrest and other pathological social conditions.... The instinct to
dance is a very primitive one, and through the dance certain emotions find outlet and expres-
sion. There is a normal and an abnormal phase to the subject, however, and we are inclined to
think that it is the latter that finds exemplification in ragtime and trotting.5
Whatever the cause, the ragtime rage grew and grew, as did reaction against it.

92 Part II. The Animal Dances

Etching entitled “Father Learns the Turkey Trot” by Wm L. Jacobs.

Anti-Ragtime Sentiment
Freak dances, as ragtime dances were also called, evoked strong emotional reactions from
those who watched them and those that danced them. As with all social dances, there were
defenders and detractors. Most who railed against trotting did so because they objected to its
shady origins. To many it was simply ugly. The close hold and jiggling of the body employed
during the dance drew the most ire, causing the out-spoken adversaries to pronounce the mod-
ern dance vulgar, if not downright immoral. The dance was seen as “a reversion to the gross-
est practices of savage man ... based on the primitive motive of orgies enjoyed by the aboriginal
inhabitants of every uncivilized land.”6 After seeing the new dances, one critic lamented that it
had struck “sex o’Clock in America.”7
Anti-rag voices rang out. Vincent Wehrle the Catholic Bishop of Bismarck, when asked his
view of modern dancing, said, “The dances and entertainments which people prefer are always a
reflection upon their moral standard. When they are anxious to strut like turkeys, they must have
something in their moral makeup which is kindred to the pompous conceited turkey.”8 Henry
Beets of the Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan contended, “No one has ever
been able, by means of the modern dance, to dance himself ‘Nearer my God to Thee,’ but statis-
tics have proven that many have gotten nearer to the devil by means of it.”9 The Canon of St.
Paul’s Cathedral in London said that modern dances such as the turkey trot were “Evils which
flourish unrebuked.”10 Dr. A. M. Williams, presiding elder of the Columbus Methodist District,
stated that the turkey trot was surely the “gait to Hell.”11 A bishop in the Episcopal Church was per-
haps the most vitriolic. He stated, “The venom of the serpent is in it [the dance]. The taint of
its birth, the virus of its constitution, is ineradicable. It is evil, only evil, and that continually.”12
9—Reaction to the Animal Dances 93

Thomas S. Byrne, the Bishop of Nashville, not only preached scathing sermons against freak
dancing, but also ordered an announcement read from every pulpit under his authority that
anyone who continued to “indulge” in the vile modern dances would be denied the Sacrament
of penance, stating that it “would be useless for them to go to confession in hope of obtaining
absolution.”13 Cardinal Basilo Pomili, Vicar General of Rome and representative of the Pope,
even went so far as to call for a Papal ban on all modern dances.
In the United States, the most well-known voice raised against dancing was evangelist Billy
Sunday. “The dance is one institution I’ll rip from hell to breakfast and back again for lunch,”
Sunday ranted. “Nothing causes the ruin of more girls than the damnable rotten dance.”14 Sun-
day’s colorful exhortations about the “hotbed of immorality” known as the modern dance were
heard by millions of Americans between 1906 and 1918. He said, “The dance is simply a hug-
ging match set to music,”15 adding “The dance is the dry rot of society. I say it is immoral....
Don’t you go to that dance.... I say young girl, don’t go to that dance; it has proved to be the
moral graveyard that has caused more ruination than anything that was ever spewed out of the
mouth of hell.”16
Outrage was not limited to the clergy. Britain’s upper crust was appalled at the scandalous
excesses seen on the dance floors in London. They feared “that if adopted these dances would
soon reduce the ballrooms to beer gardens.”17 One matron emphatically stated, “I will not have
the ‘turkey trot’ or ‘bunny hug’ in my house. Anyone dancing them would never be invited again.
It is simply a foolish craze for notoriety that prompts people to invent these absurdities. The
inventors must be bad dancers themselves.”18 The Washington Post reported on May 24, 1913:
Mrs. Rexford Parsons, a prominent London hostess, caused a society tempest by telephoning to
those who had planned dinner parties to precede her splendid dance at the Ritz-Carleton
Wednesday, that if the tango, the turkey trot, or any other transatlantic freak dances should be
attempted, the cassano orchestra would immediately cease playing. In spite of many notable
absentees, Mrs. Parsons was applauded at the ball as a champion of the right.19
As ragtime became more popular in England, outrage mounted against those “nasty Amer-
ican hug-dances.” The most ardent opponents proposed an Anti-Ragtime League “that would
effectively stamp out the craze for these new dances.”20 Efforts were mounted to ban the dances
Similar actions were taken around the globe. In Berlin, the police arrested and fined any
person caught turkey trotting. The dancing masters of Greater Berlin, who were behind the cam-
paign, reported good success in ridding the public dance halls of offending dances, but were
concerned that upper levels of society “were still indulging privately in the contortions.”21 The
Panamanian Government barred the Turkey Trot. The International Academy of Dancing Mas-
ters in France declared “these epileptic evolutions to be hostile to good society,”22 and in Paris
the tango, turkey trot, and grizzly bear were barred.
Bans were also widespread in the United States.23 The Chief of Police in New Haven, Con-
necticut issued orders to shut down any public dances where the grizzly bear and turkey trot
were performed. Officials in Chicago called the new dances a disgrace, stating, “Their names
alone are enough to condemn them.”24 All wiggling dances in the Windy City were banned. The
Mayor of Boston mandated that a matron and policeman be on guard at every public dance hall
to see that the turkey trot, tango, and dances of similar ilk were not attempted. He threatened
to revoke the license of any establishment that allowed the dances. Chief of Police John W. Ryan
of Dallas, Texas mandated that the turkey trot, grizzly bear and bunny hug “would not be per-
mitted in local dancing halls.” The Chief announced, “You must be able to see daylight between
the dancers. Promiscuous hugging in dance halls will not be tolerated in Dallas. The young girls
must be protected.”25 In New York City, Mayor Gaynor barred the turkey trot, bunny hug, wig-
gle worm, and other dances which he said were “threatening the morality of Gotham society.”26
94 Part II. The Animal Dances

After a personal investigation of various dancing venues, he concluded that New York dancers
“were exceeding the speed limit.”27 He drew up a bill that he submitted to the state legislature
to rid the state of the wicked dances.
New York City was serious about ridding itself of freak dances. The Southern Hotel in
Manhattan was raided and the proprietor and manager were arrested. All 600 registered guests
and lodgers were ordered to vacate the building within forty-eight hours, and the establishment
was closed because of reports of “extremes in dancing....”28 Wilson’s Dancing Studio on the cor-
ner of Broadway and Forty-sixth Street, was raided and nearly a hundred people were arrested
for indecent and immoral dancing.29
When a guest introduced the turkey trot at a ball given at the Naval Academy in Annapo-
lis, the Superintendent of the Academy, Captain John Henry Gibbons, responded swiftly by
announcing a series of four new Naval regulations:
1. None of the modern dances are to be performed at the United States Naval Academy
under any circumstances.
2. The midshipmen must keep their left arm straight during all dances.
3. A space of at least three inches must be kept between the dancing couple at all times.
4. Midshipment [sic] must not take the arm of their partner under any circumstances.30
Any infraction of the rules by cadets would be met with severe disciplinary action. Captain Gib-
bons announced, “Naval officers who ought to know declare that under these rules turkey trot-
ting and similar dancing is impossible.”31
The stigma associated with ragtime dancing was so pervasive that, in an effort to avert what
he called a national scandal, President-elect Woodrow Wilson canceled the Inaugural Ball fear-
ing that guests might do the turkey trot, bunny hug, or grizzly bear. Wilson ordered the can-
cellation, he said, because he feared that no matter what steps were taken to prevent such dances,
“they were almost certain to appeal to some of those attending the function, who would man-
age to have their way.”32

Social Reformers
Progressive reformers viewed ragtime dancing as a threat to the moral well-being of the
masses. In Chicago, Jane Addams, founder of Hull House settlement, criticized the dance hall.
In her 1909 book The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets she wrote that it was a place where
“improprieties were fostered.” Addams lamented the lack of proper supervision for young
women eager to find entertainment. She said, “The public dance halls, filled with frivolous and
irresponsible young people in a feverish search for pleasure, are but a sorry substitute for the
old dances on the village green in which all of the older people in the village participated. Chap-
eronage then was not a social duty but natural and inevitable.”33
Leading the fight against immoral dancing among the working classes in New York was
Belle Linder Israels. She founded an organization called the Committee on Amusements and
Vacation Resources for Working Girls. The group was one of the most active opponents of the
turkey trot, bunny hug, grizzly bear, and other “hugging dances.” Formed in June of 1908, the
group began its battle by conducting a survey of public amusements available to the working
class youth of New York City. The investigation revealed that nine out of every ten young work-
ing women said that going to the dance hall was their favorite pastime, and that over 150,000
youths frequented local dance halls each week. Capitalizing on the dreadful reputation of dance
halls at the time, one opponent called the dance hall a “muck-raking, maiden-murdering, man-
destroying institution.”34 Members of the Committee used this information to attract outside
9—Reaction to the Animal Dances 95

The caption on this 1914 postcard insinuates the less-than-savory nature of the turkey trot.
96 Part II. The Animal Dances

support. They actively campaigned to eradicate vulgar dances, believing that such dancing,
mixed with the readily available alcohol sold at these establishments, was a recipe for promis-
cuity. Girls who tripped the light fantastic on the dance hall floor, they believed, inevitably
tripped right into the brothel. Even the most innocent of young girls could unwittingly fall into
the trap of impropriety in the unchaperoned, unregulated, and sexually charged atmosphere of
the local dance hall. In her article “The Way of the Girl,” Mrs. Israels wrote,
[N]o girl comes to the dance hall night after night and remains what she was when she began
coming there. You cannot dance night after night, held in the closest of sensual embraces, with
every effort made in the style of dancing to appeal to the worst that is in you, and remain
unshaken by it. No matter how wary or how wise a girl may be — and she has enough things in
her daily life in factory and store to teach her — she is not always able to keep up the good fight.
It is always a matter of pursuit and capture.35

Because prostitution and white slavery were potent topics of debate during this period,
the Committee received wide support. Upright citizens of good moral character realized that
to battle the evils of modern man, they had to address the root of the problem — modern dances.
One critic was overhead to remark, “The closing of the red light districts as a means of correct-
ing immorality, while permitting the modern dances to flourish is like aiming a popgun at a
In a circular published after their dance hall investigation, the Committee’s following plea
was included:
The attention of the Committee on Amusements and Vacation Resources of Working Girls of
New York City has been directed to the widespread diffusion of certain forms of dancing and its
contribution to delinquency. After investigation our committee has reported that conditions on
this regard challenge the immediate consideration of all who are interested in the welfare of
young men and young women. We need your co-operation in our efforts to suppress tough danc-
ing, which, according to our investigators is being practiced to an alarming extent. We feel that
once the public conscience is aroused to the gravity of the situation means will be adopted
whereby all dancing of this character will be prohibited.37

In addition to fighting for the removal of tough dances from the dance hall, the Commit-
tee on Amusements and Vacation Resources for Working Girls also fought to remove improper
dancing from the ballrooms of the wealthy. Israels and her army of reformers were concerned
that if members of high society performed the dances, they would legitimize them. Therefore,
the Council reminded the smart set that the upper echelon must set an example for those less
fortunate. Mrs. Israels argued,
The “turkey trot” and the “grizzly bear” can be and are danced very prettily by some girls in the
younger set, but that the difference between their manner of dancing them and that which can be
witnessed in the rowdy dance halls is only one of degree, and that innocent participants can slip
almost unconsciously from one extreme to the other. The working girl who seeks the dance hall
for her amusement is tremendously interested to read in her newspaper that Mrs. So-and-So’s
debutante daughter has danced the “grizzly bear,” and urges this fact as the reason why she
should continue to indulge in it; without realizing at all that there are “grizzly bears” and “grizzly

Because of its inherent dangers, Mrs. Israels stated that even modified forms of freak dances
should be discouraged. She warned,
It is this milder form of the dance that is being taught to the unsuspecting. The positions and
movements of the dance, no matter how slight they may be, are pernicious.... We urge the impor-
tance of recognizing the distinction between legitimate dancing and this hideous perversion,
which generally speaking, is not dancing at all, but a series of indecent antics to the accompani-
ment of music.39
9—Reaction to the Animal Dances 97

The Committee held conferences to educate members of society about rough dancing.40
Their first, held at Delmonico’s, featured a demonstration of the turkey trot, the Gaby glide,
and other current dances, highlighting the more objectionable aspects of each. One of the dancers
demonstrating was a young man named Al Jolsen, who was performing at the Winter Garden.
He and his partner Florence Cable showed the eager crowd the scandalous dances. The bunny
hug brought gasps from those watching. The turkey trot was presented in its most extreme
form, a variation called “The Shiver”— a dance that was said to send shudders through those
gathered to watch the demonstration. The audience, consisting of society matrons, settlement
workers, and city officials, were titillated and suitably shocked by the performance, and Jolsen
and his partner were apparently met with thunderous applause.41
The second conference, held in the ballroom of Mrs. Charles B. Alexander’s mansion on
Fifth Avenue was attended by prominent socialites and featured mostly folk dances that were
used as examples of “the more dignified and graceful method of dancing.”42 The committee pre-
dicted at the conclusion of the second conference that during the next winter’s season, “the per-
versions of the dances of to-day” would be replaced by “the stately minuet.”43 Mrs. Israels
commissioned the young ladies attending “to carry forth the message and to assist in establish-
ing a standard of beautiful dancing.”44
The Committee exercised tremendous clout in the fight against improper dancing. After
their attempts to censor the dances proved largely futile, they decided to attack the problem by
regulating the dance halls instead. The Committee worked in tandem with the Bureau of
Licenses, “having the dances declared disorderly conduct, so that the license could be revoked
as a penalty for the very appearance of the dance.”45
The Committee was able to get a bill introduced into the State Legislature, which called
for the licensing and regulation of public dancing academies. In addition to prohibiting the sale
of liquor at such establishments, it held the proprietor responsible for any displays of indecent
or improper dancing. The law went into effect in September of 1909. When dance academy
owners challenged the law in court, the Committee responded by introducing similar legisla-
tion regulating dance halls. It quickly became law. Inspectors were assigned to investigate dance
halls, and any owner who tolerated “tough dancing” was threatened with forfeiture of his license.

Refining Ragtime Dances

Despite the battle to exterminate ragtime dances, they flourished. When banning them
outright failed, efforts were made to replace the objectionable dances with more acceptable ones,
or at least tone them down.46 On September 27, 1913, the Lincoln Daily News in Lincoln, Nebraska
ran an editorial that urged its readers to work on refining the modern dances, not eradicating them:
It [the turkey trot] has its dangers. To attempt to avoid the dangers by forbidding the dance itself
is folly. To attempt to eliminate the dangers by wise counsel, temperate restriction and construc-
tive suggestion, is the bounden duty of parents and guardians, and all upon whom rests the
responsibility for directing the development of the present day young person. Control the turkey
trot, do not try to stamp it out.47
Along these lines, there was a movement to standardize freak dances to eliminate any objec-
tionable features from them. Uriel Davis, creator of the horse trot and several other dances,
proposed a central clearing house in which dances would be approved and then distributed to
various studios around the country.48
Vernon and Irene Castle, perhaps the leading proponents of refining rag dancing, urged
restraint and decorum while dancing. In the forward to their 1914 book Modern Dancing, they
stated, “...dancing, properly executed, is neither vulgar nor immodest. But, on the contrary, the
98 Part II. The Animal Dances

personification of refinement, grace, and modesty.” They continued, “Our aim is to uplift danc-
ing, purify it, and place it before the public in its proper light.”49 The Castles listed various “sug-
gestions for correct dancing,” such as; “Do not wriggle the shoulders,” “Do not shake the hips,”
“Do not twist the body,” Do not flounce the elbows,” “Do not pump the arms,” and “Do not
hop-glide instead.”50
The couple’s influence upon changing dance styles is evident in an article that appeared in
The New York Times on January 31, 1913, entitled “Turkey Trot Must Glide.” The article reported
that Mrs. Sadie George took Mrs. Blake to court claiming Mrs. Blake’s guests had danced the
turkey trot and caused her ceiling to fall in. Mrs. Blake’s lawyer defended his client stating that
the turkey trot was now a gliding dance and therefore was not intended to produce noise. He
testified, “...your honor, my client and her guests were just learning to turkey trot, and the con-
volutions they indulged in may have produced a racket. However, they have learned how to do
it now, and from this [point] on they will glide. Then there won’t be any noise.” The judge
responded, “Well. If your client knows how to glide now, let her glide out of court, but she must
remember that any more turkey trotting must be of the gliding kind.” The article concluded,
“Mrs. Blake glided immediately and Mrs. George swept out after her.”51
The most powerful lobby for changing rag dancing was that of professional dancing teach-
ers. The Academy of Dancing Masters in Paris, for example, set down the “Ten Commandments
of Dancers.” Reacting to what they viewed as “frivolous influences which have lately invaded
society ballrooms” in the form of “the ‘turkey trot,’ the ‘grizzly bear,’ and other freak dances
from America,”52 the Academy created a “Dancers’ Decalogue.” The rules were sent to all prin-
cipal dancing schools in America to be prominently exhibited. The ten rules were as follows:
1. Have beautiful movements and you have beautiful thoughts.
2. Correctness of carriage gives correctness of mind.
3. The drawing room dance should be a silent expression of courtesy and not a series of
unseemly movements without order of taste.
4. The mental effect of dancing should be a feeling of gentleness, politeness, and respect,
and not of coarseness.
5. A coarse gestures is more harmful to the mind and often inspires more bad thoughts
that vulgar speech.
6. Discipline your muscles and always maintain correct attitudes toward intimate friends.
7. Young man, hold the lady by the waist. Do not press her, but hold her respectfully.
Young woman, do not rest altogether on your partner in dancing. Keep a pleasing, gra-
cious, but correct attitude and you will be respected.
8. Let your intelligence, goodness, and politeness be known by your movements.
9. Physiology should always correspond closely with psychology.
10. Dance like a civilized being and not like a savage.53
Part of the appeal of rag dances was the close hold employed while dancing. Partners could
squeeze each other so tight there was not even enough space between them “for the Holy
Ghost.”54 The American National Association of Masters of Dancing continually made efforts to
clean up rag dances and to replace them with “keep-your distance dances.” In their annual meet-
ing in New York in January of 1920 they announced that they “count[ed] upon the support of moth-
ers, fathers, daughters, sons, dance hall proprietors, dancing teachers and hostesses— and if
necessary the police department — to exterminate the ‘half Nelson,’ ‘body hold,’ ‘shimmy lock,’
and other imported ballroom grips which are practiced by some dancers.” They suggested hand-
ing out cards to offenders with the pre-printed phrase on it —“you will please leave the ball.”55
Since the close hold employed during rag dances caused the most criticism, some savvy
businessman created an invention to remedy the offending hug. Called a bumper, the contrap-
9—Reaction to the Animal Dances 99

tion consisted of padded poles that extended out from a belt, and when strapped around the
woman’s waist, prevented the man from getting too close. A similar apparatus consisted of two
metal belts held together with a nine inch bar to teach dancers the correct distance to have
between them when dancing.56
In addition to the attempts made to refine earlier rag dances such as the turkey trot, griz-
zly bear and bunny hug, there were concerted efforts to do away with them entirely and create
others to take their place. The creators of these replacements promised they would be “...jolly,
but neither ugly nor vulgar, as the others are.”57
New dances sprang up almost weekly, and were snatched up by a dance-hungry public.
Exhibition dancers and cabaret performers, seeking to cash in on the dancing craze, created
most of the newer steps. The trend was commercially lucrative for dancers and choreographers
who often simply shuffled around existing steps and gave the new combination a name. Uriel
Davis58 capitalized on the craze by forming “Uriel Davis Modern Dancing Studios, Inc.” which
operated studios across the United States and offered to teach the latest steps. Davis is most
famous for creating the horse trot,59 but he also originated a number of other dances including
the tiger, the fish walk,60 the dream tango, the seasick dip (or seasick step), the deedleum min-
uet, the Bulgarian canter, the college chum schottische, the Baltimore Rag, the grape juice wal-
low, the roseda waltz, and the Davis fox trot.61 Davis was the darling of social circles in Washington,
New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Newport, and as such, also invented social games and nov-
elties. In articles of the day he is sometimes referred to as the “originator of freak dances.”62
Other innovators, including the Castles, Maurice Mouvet, and Ned Wayburn, also created
new dances to the syncopated beat of ragtime. In 1911, Wayburn choreographed the Gaby glide
for a play entitled Vera Violetta.63 It was created specifically for popular actress and dancer, Gaby
Deslys.64 She performed the dance with partner Harry Pilcer.
In the summer of 1914, vaudeville actor Harry Fox65 introduced the fox trot66 at the Jardin
de Danse on the rooftop of the New York Theatre in Ziegfeld’s Danse De Follies Cabaret. His
version of the dance was a fast, jerky trot done to ragtime music. A more refined fox trot was
presented by Oscar Duryea to the public on September 3, 1914, under the auspices of the Amer-
ican Society of Professors of Dancing. In Duryea’s tamed-down version, gliding or sauntering
took the place of the more strenuous trotting utilized by Fox.
A booklet put out by Columbia Gramophone Company entitled “How to Dance the Fox-
trot” and written by Joan Sawyer who was listed as “Originator of this Season’s Most Popular
Dance” included a letter inside its front cover. Dated November 23, 1914, the letter read in part,
“The Fox-trot was originated and danced first by me at my Persian Garden in New York and
later in vaudeville....”67 It is signed by Joan Sawyer.
W. C. Handy said that Vernon and Irene Castle originated the foxtrot:
Jim Europe [James Reese Europe], head of the local Clef Club, was the Castle’s musical director.
The Castle Walk and One-Step were fast numbers. During breath-catching intermissions, Jim
would sit at the piano and play slowly the Memphis Blues. He did this so often that the Castles
became intrigued by its rhythm, and Jim asked why they didn’t originate a slow dance adaptable
to it. The Castles liked the idea and a new dance [the foxtrot] was introduced....68
Irene Castle herself stated, “It was Jim Europe ... who suggested the foxtrot to us, and for
all I know he invented it.”69

Medical Objections
In his book The Modern Dance, anti-dance advocate M. F. Ham mentions an article in the
Houston Chronicle that told of the newest disease called “Turkey Leg,” threatening the coun-
100 Part II. The Animal Dances

The cover of this 1913 piece of sheet music of the ragtime tune “I Can’t Stop Doing It Now” shows a
couple dancing the Grizzly Bear despite warnings from a policeman that the improper dance must
9—Reaction to the Animal Dances 101

try. “High society, the kind that dwells in Newport, has it. Houston, if it turkey trots too much,
may get it. And Houston mothers as well as Newport mothers have of recent date become wor-
ried. Doctors to the turkey trotting rich say that the only cure is to shake your leg or get it pulled
several times daily.”70 The ailment was widespread. In the summer of 1913, The Fort Wayne Sen-
tinel reported that in Philadelphia it was a virtual epidemic:
Medical men in this city who have been called on to treat so many society men and women suf-
fering from an inflammation of the muscles of thigh that has been caused by excessive “turkey
trotting,” say the ailment is due to what they term “sartoritis,” getting its name from the longest
muscle in the body, the sartorius. Many of the patients have had to keep off their feet until the
injury had healed. The women were all affected on the right leg, while the men were bruised or
strained on the left leg. Surgeons say this is because the turkey trot is a one-step affair and fol-
lowing the steps of the dance the women bear down on the one side and the men on the other....
Society folk have termed the affliction “turkey leg.”71

“Turkey leg” was not the only medical complaint lodged against trotting. Irene Castle
recalled that a medical maelstrom erupted when she had her appendectomy. Although half of
the physicians who voiced opinions claimed that dancing was therapeutic, the other half insisted
that ragtime dancing was actually the culprit and “had damaged [her] appendix and caused the
attack.”72 Dancer Preston Gibson, one of the leaders of Washington society, also blamed his
appendicitis on his zeal for doing the trotting dances. “Formerly an ardent admirer of the turkey
trot and kindred dances,”73 Gibson called for a ban on what he now saw were wicked dances.
Some doctors attributed “sciatica, rheumatism, hip disease, neuritis, neuralgia, paralysis, and
other terrifying ills”74 to ragging.
In Philadelphia the rag was banned from aristocratic ballrooms because “the fascination
of the ‘turkey trot’ and other demure dances” had caused “some of the most notable debutantes
in Philadelphia society to faint from exhaustion.”75 In Yonkers, New York, seventeen-year-old
Helen Paulsen broke her leg while doing the turkey trot. The trot itself was not really the cause,
but rather some rotten floorboards on her front porch where she was learning the dance from
a friend. Her foot went through one of the boards, she tripped, and consequently broke her leg.
The paper that reported the incident informed its readers, “Miss Paulsen has resolved to let the
turkey trot and its associate dances alone.”76 In one tragic case, a young bride in Atlantic City
died from internal hemorrhaging after doing the dance. “Over-exertion from doing the turkey
trot with friends in her home caused Mrs. Agnes E. Day’s death Saturday night.”77 Mrs. Day
experienced an intense pain in her side while dancing and “it was later discovered that she had
ruptured a blood vessel.”78
In 1912, William Milburn Dye, a Methodist minister, issued a warning to those who were
tempted by a trip to their local dance hall, stating that recent statistics confirmed that dancing
was not only injurious to the health, but also fatal. He declared, “Habitual dancers die at an
average early age, men 31, and women 27.”79
People were so passionate about dancing ragtime that violence often erupted. In Middle-
town, Connecticut, a small riot occurred when several hundred dancers were not allowed to
tango and turkey trot. “Decorations were torn down, furnishings broken and the electric light
wires disarranged by the crowd.”80 In New York, a Mrs. O’Leary discovered her eighteen-year-
old daughter Gladys and twenty fellow members of the Harlem Girls’ Social Club rehearsing
the turkey trot, grizzly bear, and bunny hug in her home. Mrs. O’Leary had provided sand-
wiches, cakes and lemonade for the girls and was setting the refreshments on a table in the cor-
ner of the parlor when she witnessed the dances. According to the account in the papers,
Mrs. O’Leary rapidly underwent the emotions of surprise and astonishment, which were super-
seded by anger that knew no bounds, especially when the girls laughingly told her they would
give an exhibition with young men at the coming ball of the club. On this the matronly spirit of
102 Part II. The Animal Dances

Mrs. O’Leary burst its bonds, She chased the whole bevy from the room. In anger they defied her.
The Celtic spirit rose quickly. She pulled the hair of the girl nearest her and booted another. Then
followed screams and an all-round fight. The suffragette spirit in the girls developed, and they
piled onto Mrs. O’Leary, while Gladys stood in the background fright-stricken. Mrs. O’Leary
proved the victor. The girls were routed, some with bruised and discolored eyes and others
minus “rats” and other indispensables in the line of women’s goods. Policeman Alexander was
attracted by cries of “Murder!” and “Help!” and upon the demand of the club members, except-
ing Gladys of course, placed Mrs. O’Leary under arrest.81

Mrs. O’Leary was arraigned on multiple charges, but they were eventually discharged. When
the mothers of the other girls heard about the incident, they placed a ban on the dances.
On March 27th, 1913, in Grants Pass, Oregon, Ed Spence, the owner of the club “Holland,”
was stabbed eleven times after trying to enforce his “no animal dances allowed” rule upon a
couple caught doing the bunny hug. In West Virginia, a woman shot three people to death
when the band at a local dance played “waltzy music when she wanted ragtime.”82
In Prussia, a Colonel criticized a General for allowing his daughter to dance the turkey trot
with an officer at a military ball. The General challenged the Colonel to a duel to the death with
sabers, and the Colonel was fatally wounded in the head. In a similar incident, an Austrian
officer challenged a young American, who had danced the trot with his daughter, to a duel. As
a result of incidents like this, Swiss hotels began to prohibit the turkey trot and bunny hug.
Ragtime dance mania was considered a madness and a threat to mental health. Dr. S. Grover
Burnett, the former president of the University of Missouri medical school, declared in an inter-
view on January 26, 1915, that “insanity is increasing in the United States.” He warned, “...many
of the cases of insanity developed in the United States within the last few years may be traced
to modern eccentric dances as a causal source, [and] one-tenth of the insane of this country
have lost their minds on account of troubles which may commonly be traced to modern
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Origins of the Tango

Fashions, like waves, sweep over continents. Sometimes it will be a dance, sometimes a food,
sometimes a song, sometimes a freak of fashion, sometimes a game; but the year 1913 might be
called “The Tango Year,” for the dance has provoked more conversation and evoked more clothes
and teas and music than anything else. The Tango danced itself into favour in America with the
dawn of 1913; it is dancing at the height of its prosperity all over Europe with the close of the
same year.1
The tango, long associated with passion and desire, swept like wildfire across Europe and
America at the same time that animal dances were trotting their way into the news. Tangoma-
nia grabbed the world and brought with it equal parts of outrage and acclaim.

Etymology of the Word “Tango”

The etymology of the word “tango” is somewhat shrouded in mystery. Most historians
trace the word directly to African origins and point to its use in various dialects to mean “a
closed place,” “a reserved place,” “a circle,” or “any private place to which one must ask per-
mission to enter.”2
Some suggest that the word is merely onomatopoeic and echoes the beating of a drum. It
has also been suggested that perhaps “tango” is a phonetic alteration of the name of the Yoruba
god of lightning and thunder, Shango.3 In Cuba, for example, blacks who spoke the Yoruba lan-
guage wrote the name of the deity as Sango. They pronounced the first “s” like a Spanish “s,”
therefore articulating the deity’s name to sound like “tango.”
Gladys Beattie Crozier, in her 1913 dance manual The Tango and How to Dance It, stated
that the word,
[S]aid by some to be derived from the word “Tangonette”— a special variety of castanet used in
dancing — when translated actually means “I touch,” being the first person singular of the Spanish
verb “tangir,” meaning “to touch” and doubtless chosen as a title for the dance owing to the
somewhat close proximity of the partners.... This gives further proof, if further proof were
needed, of the undoubted Spanish origin of the dance.4
Other sources have pointed to the word’s connection to Spain. According to some, its first
known use can be traced to Isla de Hierro, one of the Canary Islands owned by Spain, and
located off the coast of Africa. It is also well documented that the word was brought to Argentina
from Andalucía, Spain in the middle of the nineteenth century and was used to reference a
specific type of music.5
Other writers have suggested that the term can be traced to the Portuguese because it is
closely related to the Latin verb tangere, “to touch.”6 Historians who support this theory believe
the term was brought to Argentina by blacks when they were transported there during the slave
trade. The word was assimilated into pidgin Portuguese when slaves learned the word from
their captors. It is known that the word was widely used on the island of São Tomé, a center of
the Portuguese slave trade.7

106 Part III. The Tango
10—Origins of the Tango 107

The first written use of the word “tango” can found in a document signed by the Spanish
governor of Louisiana in 1786. It mentions “los tangos, o bailoes de negros,” translated as “the
tangos, or dances of the blacks.” In 1803, the Real Academia Española dictionary listed the word
“tango” as a variant of tángano, which was defined as “a bone or rock used to play the game
bearing the same name.” The same year, the Archives of the Holy Inquisition in Mexico contained
a reference to the “ancient tango” and stated that it was a Mexican song.8
Crozier states that a dance called the tango was common in Cuba when the island was still
a colony of Spain. When Cuba was fighting for its independence, the families of revolutionar-
ies “took refuge in Jamaica, where they introduced the Tango under the name of ‘the Spanish
dance’ or ‘Cuban Dance.’”9
The word “tango” appears to have been fairly commonly used throughout Latin American
although its meanings varied. Most often the word signified “a gathering of blacks to dance to
drum music” but it was also used as “the name the Africans gave the drum itself.”10 It eventu-
ally came to have two commonly accepted meanings: first, as a place for dancing for either slaves
or free blacks, and second, as the dances themselves.11
Whatever the exact derivation, most agree that the word “tango” probably indicates slave
connections, and therefore can be traced to African origins.12 In his book Dictionary of the Dance,
W. G. Raffé states that the tango can be traced to a North African ritual dance of the Shango (or
Xango), and that it was an important part of the New Year Feast celebration. The tribal dance
consisted of twelve parts dramatizing twelve stories.13 Raffé suggests that a form of this ritual
dance made its way to Spain and then to Argentina.
Others have had different theories as to the origin of the tango. In their book Modern Danc-
ing, Vernon and Irene Castle stated,
The Tango is not, as commonly believed, of South American origin. It is an old gipsy dance
which came to Argentina by way of Spain, where in all probability it became invested with cer-
tain features of the old Moorish dances. The Argentines adopted the dance, eliminating some of
the reckless gipsy traits, and added to it a certain languid indolence peculiar to their tempera-

Writer Gladys Beattie Crozier agreed. In 1913, she wrote,

[T]he suggestion that it [the tango] originally started as a gipsy dance and was carried by the
gypsies into Spain, and thence by the Spaniards to the Argentine, where, by reason of its slow,
dreamy movements, so specially well suited to a hot climate, it became firmly established as a
national country dance, seems the most probable solution to the mystery [of the origin of the

As with the animal dances, there were attempts to distance the tango from its “savage”
African roots and associate it with more “refined” classical origins. Jean Richepin 16 of the
Académie Francais declared that the tango was derived from ancient Greek rituals—“war dances
of the Ancient Thebans.”17 He stated, “Pindar, Homer, Socrates, and Sophocles were exponents
and practitioners of the dance. The antiquity of the tango can be proved from figures in the
British Museum and from the tombs of Thebes.”18 Richepin elaborated, “The tango was
well known to the ancients. You can see it in the British Museum, where figures of ancient
Thebes are dancing the tango, clothed only in a belt of gold thread. The Egyptians and Chal-
deans had a similar dance in which there were mathematical and metaphysical and mystical
In Milford Iowa, The Milford Mail, reported on November 19, 1914, that the tango was
actually of Japanese descent.

Opposite: From a series of 1914 Russian tango postcards.

108 Part III. The Tango

The tango did not originate in Argentine. It came from Tango, Japan, a district on the southern
shore of Wasaka bay down on the west coast, where it originated some 300 years ago in the city
of Hashidate.... The music for the Japanese tango was strummed on an instrument known as the
stamisen. When Argentine borrowed the dance from Japan and gave it plenty of advertising, they
discarded the stamisen and hired brass bands.20

The Early Development of the Dance

By the mid–nineteenth century, about one fourth of all the inhabitants of Buenos Aires
were black. Mainly living in the inner-city parishes, these African-Argentines developed their
own styles of dance. One in particular was the candombe. A fusion of African drum rhythms
peppered with European elements, the candombe involved intricate footwork and ended with
“a final section combining wild rhythms, freely improvised steps and energetic, semi-athletic
movements.”21 The dance is primarily associated with Uruguay, and is believed to have had its
genesis in and around Montevideo during the early colonial days of that country, but it also
developed in black communities in Buenos Aires and in other cities in South America.22
Dance historian A. H. Franks states that the origins of the candombe can be traced to an
African dance known as the tangano. African slaves brought the dance to Cuba and Haiti dur-
ing the first part of the eighteenth century. Descendants of these slaves later migrated to the
River Plate area in South America, bringing the tangano with them. The dance absorbed Euro-
pean influences and became known as the candombe. The candombe contained the earliest seeds
of the tango.
Another dance, the habanera, arrived in Buenos Aires around 1850, brought there by black
slaves who were originally taken to Montevideo.23 This rhythmical dance developed on the plan-
tations of Cuba, and combined African-inspired bent knees and undulating hips done in a
European dance position similar to the waltz. Recognizable because of its distinctive bass line —
a dotted eighth note followed by a sixteenth and two eighth notes, this type of syncopation
stresses every other beat.24 The habanera played an important role in the development of the
tango, as well as other dances such as the canyengue, the milonga, the maxixe, and the samba.
Around 1870, the milonga appeared as the popular dance of the day in Buenos Aires. Some-
times called “the poor man’s habanera,”25 the milonga grew out of the African tradition of mock
battle. The dance was like a ritualized duel, a theme later utilized by dancers as stylized com-
petition and taunting while doing the tango.26 According to the authors of the book Tango! The
Dance, the Song, the Story, “There has never been any real doubt about the importance of the
milonga and the habanera in the tango’s immediate ancestry. It seems fairly clear that the milonga
actually was the embryonic form of the tango before the new dance was finally given a name.”27

Development of the Tango in Early Buenos Aires

In 1880, Buenos Aires became the capital of Argentina. Drawn by dreams of wealth, thou-
sands flooded to the city from rural areas. Most prominent were the nomadic cowhands of the
Argentine Pampa, known as gauchos, and Afro-Argentines descended from seventeenth cen-
tury slaves. In Buenos Aires, they mixed with immigrants from Spain and Italy who brought
with them their own rich cultural heritage.
Most settled in the poorer areas of the city — the sprawling suburbs, known as barrios and
arrables where the main industry was the city’s slaughterhouse. A common site was the figure
of the compadre who herded cattle from the Pampa to the slaughterhouse. A more urban ver-
10—Origins of the Tango 109

sion of the gaucho, the compadres nevertheless retained some qualities of the gauchos such as
“fierce independence, masculine pride, and a strong inclination to settle affairs of honour with
knives.”28 Young street toughs from the poor slums called compadritos29 adopted the compadres
ways— mimicking their speech patterns, and imitating their outfits, although often in an exag-
gerated way. Their traditional manner of dress consisted of a “slouch hat, loosely tied handker-
chief, high-heeled boots, and knife casually tucked into belt.”30 These rowdy young men played
an important part in the birth of the tango.
A man who called himself Viejo Tanguero, translated as “Old Tangoer,” wrote an article
published on September 22, 1913 in Crítica, Buenos Aires’ first mass-circulation popular news-
paper, that stated the tango was created as a parody dance by young campadritos. He wrote that
compadritos had a habit of frequenting Afro-Argentine dances. One time they saw a candombe-
like dance that the blacks called the tango. These young ruffians took the dance back to Corrales
Viejos, the slaughterhouse district in the southern arrabal of Buenos Aires, and in the low-class
dives and brothels31 they began interpolating aspects of it into the milonga. This variation of
the popular milonga soon found its way to other districts in the city.
Tanguero’s story is confirmed by author Ventura Lynch who wrote in 1883, “the milonga
is danced only by the compadritos of the city, who have created it as a mockery of the dances
the blacks hold in their own places.”32
The compadritos’ dances were traditionally athletic, robust, and masculine. The African-
Argentine dances were sexually provocative and laced with elements of violence; they utilized
jerky motions that interpolated stops in which the dancers held a pose and menacingly stare at
others.33 In the overcrowded slums of the city, these various cultural influences cross-polli-
nated, eventually creating a fusion of styles.
The distinctive features of the new dance-form came entirely from the compadritos’ parodistic
borrowings from the African-Argentine tradition — in particular the so-called quebradas and cortes.
The quebrada was simply an improvised, jerky, semi-athletic contortion, the more dramatic the
better, while the corte was a sudden, suggestive pause, a break in the standard figures of the dance,
not in itself a particular movement so much as a prelude to a quebrada. The true novelty, as the
embryonic tango slowly took shape, was that the cortes and quebradas were incorporated into
dances in which the partners danced together, not, as in the African-Argentine “tango,” apart.34

In addition to African influenced dances, the compradritos took other common dances of
the day, stylizing them to create a hybrid fusion of styles. According to tango historian Jo Baim,
“Much of the creation of the tango dance grew out of the compadrito society’s unique treatment
of the polkas, mazurkas, waltzes, and quadrilles known to everyone. The goal was exaggerated
style, highly ornamented with filigrees and refaladas (ornamental steps) of various kinds.”35 The
melding of European and African styles was apparent in another vitally important way — the
dance hold. “Candombe was danced apart whereas polka and habanera were danced in embrace
position. In translating the break patterns of African apart dancing into embrace dancing, the
compadrito (as well as other vernacular stylists) were gradually creating their own empirical
Around 1900, another dance emerged, also important in the early development of the
tango— the canyengue. The native or Creole dance or tango criollo of the Argentine-born com-
padritos and creolized Italian immigrants was usually danced upright. The canyengue, how-
ever, was done in a deep bend with the bodies of the dancers leaning against each other. Tango
scholar Robert Farris Thompson states, “ is possible to suggest a composite translation for
canyengue: the oldest form of tango dance, where one melts to the music; taking short steps,
keeping knees bent, and leaning on the chest of one’s partner.”37 According to Thompson, the
leaning, the dips, and the deep bending knees employed while doing the tango can all be traced
to African roots.38
110 Part III. The Tango

Tango on the Early Argentine Stage

Around the 1860’s, the tango was a common feature on the Buenos Aires stage, especially
in a form of burlesque called the sainete proteño. These farces were typically one act plays that
utilized large casts, featured local talent, and had plots based on the compadrito society and how
it dealt with the flood of immigrants. One theme that was used was the duelo crillo, or a duel
between an immigrant and someone born in Buenos Aires, also known as a creole.
In early Buenos Aires, street duels were common as social tensions escalated between immi-
grants, in particular the Italians,39 and the creole compadritos. The duelo criollo was “highly rit-
ualized, and the type of knife chosen and the type of wounds inflicted indicated the level of
respect or disrespect each fighter had for his opponent. Eventually, the tango replaced the knife,
and the level of respect was indicated by the tango’s lyrics and the complexity of tango steps.”40
The short vignettes in the sainetes, such as depictions of the duelo criollo, as well as other
themes, helped to preserve early tango lore. They allowed tango poems and lyrics that had pre-
viously been passed down orally to be written down. The plays created tango personalities; their
success and popularity, in turn, heightened the popularity of the dance. In addition, the sainetes
introduced a broad spectrum of Buenos Aires society to tango language and style. By the end
of the 1800’s, the tango was so well known to all classes that it was not uncommon for upper-
class men to venture to the lower class establishments to experience the dance.
The early tango often conjured up an image of a smoky brothel where intertwined cou-
ples danced the tango in an atmosphere of lust and danger. The dance was full of raw energy,
lasciviousness, and drama, and the stereotype of the pimp acting out control of his prostitute
through the dance is still a lasting archetype. Some reputable historians question whether the
tango really began in the bordellos of Buenos Aires, but many point out that the tango certainly
had its birth in rougher neighborhoods of the city.41 As the dance was developing, the sensual-
ity of the tango convinced most who saw it or danced it, that it must have had less than higher
class origins. Its association with the whorehouse or quilombo, as it was called in Argentina,
lingered, and the tango always maintained an air of impropriety.
Respectable society in Buenos Aires shunned the tango initially, fearing that any connec-
tion with it would lead to moral contamination and scandal. The wealthy sons of the Argen-
tine oligarchy might go slumming, but their parents would never allow the voluptuous dance
at any of their own social functions. By the early 1900’s, however, as knowledge of the tango
spread throughout the capital city and then abroad, most middle and upper classes began to
accept the dance42 and proudly to claim it as an expression of Argentine culture. Many tango
venues opened, and dance halls, cafés, cabarets, and tango bars flourished.43 As the upper classes
embraced the dance, the style of the tango evolved from the exaggerated flourishes used by the
compadritos to a smoother, more refined and serious dance.

Development and Dispersion of the Tango

Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Argentine high society traditionally
sent its sons to Europe to take the grand tour and do those things young men must do when they
come of age. For many Argentines this meant a great deal of time spent in the supper clubs and
cabarets of the Paris demimonde, especially in Montmarte. Though they could learn nothing new
about dance in society ballrooms, they found surprising developments in the lower-class clubs.
The Parisian demimonde had a dance called the Apache, and in it the Argentines claimed to find
a spirit kindred to that of the tango. A mutual exchange of steps and styles ensued, and thus the
tango found its way to Paris.1

Paris was ripe for the invasion of the new dance. In 1909, Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes thrilled
and excited Paris audiences, sparking an interest in things foreign and unusual. Rag dances and
syncopated music from America had introduced Parisians to jazz. In the tango, Parisians found
the epitome of sensuality, exoticism, and innovation.
When wealthy young men from Argentina introduced the dance to their Parisian hosts, the
risqué, aggressive nature of the dance intrigued and titillated the more modern-thinking French.
Unlike the acrobatic French Apache which had piqued earlier interest, but was too dangerous
to actually attempt, the naughty tango was accessible. It was a dance even a socialite could do.
Learning the sensuous moves from a handsome, wealthy Latin man only added to its appeal.
The tango also found its way to Paris by other means. Entertainment agents from France
had discovered the tango while visiting Buenos Aires. After hearing the new music and seeing
the provocative dance, they signed Argentine orchestras and dancers to perform in clubs and
cabarets in Paris.2
Although the music was an instant hit in Paris and in other towns in France, the overtly
sexual aspect of the dance, as it was first presented in French cabarets, shocked as many as it
intrigued. Efforts were made to tone down the tango to make it more appropriate and accessi-
ble. Some were rather disappointed in the results. As one writer of the day put it, “In Paris the
true Argentine “tang” which gave the dance its somewhat tigerish air of energy, latent, though
unexpressed, is in the most fashionable dancing sets being daily more and more eliminated ...
with the result that the dance in certain Paris sets shows some signs of degenerating into a lan-
guid, characterless crawl — which seems a pity.”3
Most people welcomed the newly refined, but still somewhat risqué dance. American ball-
room dancers Vernon and Irene Castle observed, “...from a rather obscene exhibition, which is still
indulged in by certain cabaret performers, it bloomed forth a polished and extremely fascinat-
ing dance, which has not had its equal in rhythmical allurement since the days of the Minuet.”4
In 1908, the tango made its first appearance in a theatrical review in Paris, and two years
later Professor B. G. Bottallo, the director of the Academy of Dance and Deportment, “officially”
demonstrated it at the Sorbonne. The Professor danced with French cabaret sensation Mist-
inguett. The much-beloved music-hall performer, who later became known for her tangoing
abilities, helped propel the dance to greater heights of popularity among the Paris upper classes.5
In his book Maurice’s Art of Dancing, exhibition ballroom dancer Maurice Mouvet claims

112 Part III. The Tango

Early twentieth century Italian postcard depicting the tango, by artist Giovanni Nanni.
11—Development and Dispersion of the Tango 113

that he was “the first professional to perform this dance [the tango] in Paris,”6 when he danced
it with his partner Leona at the Café des Ambassadeurs. Mouvet explains that he had learned
the tango from a group of South American boys who frequented Maxim’s and first introduced
the daring dance there. Mouvet explained that he was able to learn the dance so thoroughly
because he danced with the young men themselves when they could not find female partners.
According to Mouvet, the same-sex partnering resulted in “a good deal of critical comment both
among the dancers and spectators.”7
Whoever first officially presented the dance in Paris may never be known, but it is clear
that soon the tango took the city by storm. “Paris went completely mad about it. ‘La Ville
Lumiere’ was dubbed ‘Tangoville’ ... and for months Tango dancing, Tango dress, Tango teach-
ers, and Tango teas [were] the only topics in the Gay city.”8 Dance studios grew wealthy as
socialites rushed in for daily lessons. Male instructors were particularly in demand, especially
if they were handsome, exotic-looking Latins, or at least men masquerading as such. Many
young, ambitious men from Buenos Aires traveled to France to work as tango instructors, drawn
by the lure of easy money. One was heard to remark “We love dancing with this ruined old French
nobility.”9 Other men, who could not claim Argentine roots, quickly learned the tango and sim-
ply manufactured their own exotic heritage.10
The city was flooded with dancing masters. One of the most successful instructors was
Ludovic de Portalou, Marquis de Sénas, an ex–Hussar who helped start the famous restaurant
Maxim’s. He had learned the tango while visiting Buenos Aires and became known around Paris
as “Le Roi du Tango,” or “The King of the Tango.”
The tango influenced everything from French cuisine to French couture. Even the banana
was renamed La Banane Tango by virtue of its yellow color — a shade associated with the tango.11
The dance became a popular subject with top artists, who captured the tango’s dramatic poses
in everything from paintings to postcards. A special “Tango Train” was put together so aficiona-
dos of the dance could keep tangoing while traveling between Paris and Deauville during the
summer. The Palais de Glace featured a tango on ice skates. Tango contests and competitions
were a common occurrence.12
There were tango teas held between four in the afternoon and seven, where the public, for an
entry fee of up to five francs including tea and sandwiches, could dance to their heart’s content.
There were also champagne-tangos, surprise-tangos, charity tangos, dinner-tangos, and of course
tangos in nightclubs, then spreading like wildfire to cater to the dance craze.13
Many of the large town homes along the Champs Elysées were converted to clubs to meet
the growing demand for tango venues. The craze reached such a fever pitch that some leading
socialites arranged to have one mansion set aside exclusively for a popular tango teacher so he
could give lessons to members of the smart set. The class drew so much attention that tickets
had to be issued for those wishing to attend the classes: “Blue for women of the most exclusive
society circle, pink for other women, and white for men.”14
One of the most ardent supporters of the tango in Paris was writer and dramatist Jean
Richepin. On October 13, 1913, Richepin, a member of the prestigious French Académie des
Beaux Arts, gave a lecture defending the tango. Later that same year on December 30, 1913, the
city was treated to a play about the dance written by Richepin and his wife, Cora Laparcerie.
Entitled Le Tango, the drama opened at the Athénée Theatre in Paris, with sets and costumes
by fashion icon Paul Poiret. The plot revolved around a young couple unable to consummate
their marriage until they discover the secret of sexuality by dancing the tango. Oddly enough,
the message of Richepin’s play conflicted with his lecture for the French Académie des Beaux
Arts, which argued that there was nothing intrinsically erotic in the tango. Audiences were
shocked by the subject matter and even further inflamed because in the production women
played the roles of both the husband and wife. Critics hated the play and subsequent articles
114 Part III. The Tango

accused Richepin of merely writing the Le Tango in an attempt to make money off the popu-
larity of the dance.
Dancer and writer Victor Silvester stated that the person most responsible for helping to
popularize the tango in the Europe was French entrepreneur and dancer Camille de Rhynal.15
In 1907, Rhynal was at the Imperial Country Club in Nice with a gathering of friends who were
intrigued with the tango but found its movements too overtly provocative. Rhynal and the oth-
ers, who included Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia, worked together to remove any “objec-
tionable features.” The revamped, refined dance proved a success in Nice, and from there was
transported to Paris, “where the presence of genuine Argentine tango orchestras— specially
imported by beady-eyed musical agents— ensured that the dance was a hit.”16

The Tango Spreads Through Europe

As the tango craze grew in France, word of the dance filtered to other metropolitan cen-
ters in Europe. Around 1910, the British first heard of the daring new dance. After the summer
of 1911, when English tourists vacationing in France returned home, they began requesting the
dance they had seen abroad. The same year, the Dancing Times ran photographs of the tango.
In February of 1912, George Grossmith, who had learned the dance while visiting Paris in the
winter of 1911–1912, performed a tango with partner Phyliss Dare at the Gaiety Theatre in the
West End, in a musical called The Sunshine Girl. The show, which ran for a year was a huge hit,
and caused a host of other companies to quickly add the tango to their productions.
Shortly afterward, afternoon tango teas came into vogue, and London, like other cities
across Europe, was gripped by tangomania. By 1913 and into 1914, practically every hotel and
restaurant offered thés dansant and most prominent society hostesses offered private tango teas
in their homes. The Savoy Hotel offered a special tango dinner each evening.
Trying to top the ordinary tango tea, the manager of Murray’s organized a super-tango
tea. An article in the New York Times described the event: “The super-tango tea ... consists of
a formidable programme which is a mélange of tableaux vivants, ultra-modern dances, ragtime,
and the added novelty of a fashion parade of mannequins showing the latest Parisian creations.”
Although the attendees did not dance themselves, they could enjoy a presentation of the latest
dances to the “strains of a negro banjo band, followed by coon songs and then a fashion parade
with couture all based on a Chinese theme.” The show was presented in a supper club deco-
rated with Chinese scenery to resemble a room in “the palace of Benevolent Blessings.” African-
American songs were used to connect the segments of the Asian-themed program.17
The tango infiltrated every level of British society, from the wealthy to the working classes.
Even street urchins danced the tango on London’s street corners for pennies. Viscount Haldane,
the Lord Chancellor of London, lamented that low numbers of enlisted men in the Territorial
Army was largely due to young men preferring to spend their time doing the tango, rather than
serving their country. The topic of the tango crept into almost every conversation; one society
woman was overheard to remark, “I don’t see why the women of England are making such a
rumpus over suffrage when they have the Tango to argue about.”18
Germany also went mad over the new dance. Tango teas and classes offering instructions
in the dance popped up around the country. When an American paper asked its foreign corre-
spondent to write an article about “the subject uppermost in the German people’s mind,”19 he
submitted a piece about the tango. In October of 1914, The New York Times reported on a after-
noon tango tea offered by one department store in Berlin. “Judging by the throngs which attended
the opening tea this week,” the article read, “the innovation will prove a bigger attraction than
bargain sales....”20
11—Development and Dispersion of the Tango 115

The Jardin de Danse, atop the New York Theatre, was one of the many famous nightspots where cou-
ples tangoed the night away. From The Tango and Other Up-To-Date Dances by J. S. Hopkins (1914).

Tangoists were horrified when Kaiser Wilhelm II issued an unexpected edict in 1914, for-
bidding his uniformed officers from doing the dance or even attending private functions where
the tango was performed. The Kaiser’s orders effectively banned the dance from being per-
formed by members of high society because officers in uniform were de riguer at every social
function. The tango faltered, but Germans still demanded the dance. Despite the Kaiser’s edict,
the tango continued to proliferate outside of official court functions.
In Russia, Tsar Nicholas II ordered a demonstration of the tango after he was informed
that two of his nephews, “had been involved in an incident in a fashionable nightclub in St.
Petersburg, ‘where a new perturbing dance was revealed.’”21 The grand-dukes showed their
uncle the tango and “perhaps surprisingly — he liked it.”22 One magazine in St Petersburg ran
the headline “Everybody’s Dancing the Tango.” The article included instructions on how to do
the dance as demonstrated by Phyllis Dare, who had recently grabbed Britain’s attention doing
the tango in The Sunshine Girl.
The tango also invaded Spain and Italy. Spanish King Alfonso XII favored the tango,
although the more conservative members of his court expressed contempt for the dance. In
Rome, “...impoverished young aristocrats, whose noble blood made them disdainful of more
useful employment, suddenly found their vocation as tango partners.”23 In the early months of
1914, two members of the nobility demonstrated the dance for Pope Pius X. The pontiff thought
the tango nothing more than “barbarian contortions of Negroes and Indians.”24 The Vatican
issued a circular calling the tango “offensive to the purity of every right-minded persons,”25 but
despite efforts to suppress the dance, the tango craze swept through Italy.

The Tango in the United States

The tango hit the United States full force in the winter of 1913–1914. As in the metropoli-
tan centers of Europe, cities across America were swept up in tango madness— tango teas and
tango classes were everyday occurrences. On February 16, 1914, the Oelwein Daily Register, in
116 Part III. The Tango

Oelwein, Iowa, ran an article, “Tango Mania Has New York in Its Grip” that summed up the
Nothing matters nowadays but the tango.... Truly it can be said these days that Milady Butterfly
dances through life. From the moment she wakes until she drops exhausted in her fluffy nest of a
bed her day is just a continuous round of dancing. After breakfast the more ambitious of her will
migrate to the studio of a dancing master, usually a young man of foreign importation and
unpronounceable name whose dexterous movements in the tango and the maxixe cast a spell
nightly over the feminine portion of his audiences in some big eating and dancing palace. Here
she will cheerfully surrender 25 of papa’s good, honest American dollars for one hour’s private
instruction in the intricacies of the latest variety of the tango.... After a hasty luncheon at home
she sprinkles a drop of tango perfume on her tango frock, adjusts her tango veil over her freshly
powdered little nose, grabs her tango bag, and hikes off to an after-luncheon dancing class,
where she whirls and twirls in joyous abandon. Then after a thé dansant in any one of the
numerous gorgeously appointed places devoted to this fad, she joins the merry throng on the
ballroom floor of a dinner dansant restaurant, where she dances away until the wee hours of the

After conquering New York, the tango quickly spread across the America. The Lincoln Daily
Star, in Lincoln, Nebraska, reported on October 5, 1913:
Tango-itis, in cyclonic velocity, is sweeping across the country, and almost the entire world for
that matter. And like a storm, it sweeps everything before it ... go where you will, it is impossible
to get away from it. If people aren’t dancing it, they are talking about it. The prevalence of the
dance and its universal adoption in some form, exceeds in popularity anything ever introduced
into the social world.27

A paper in Fort Wayne, Indiana also reported on the dance craze:

Boston is at present in the throes of Tangoitis. The craze was a little belated in reaching there,
but the city has a bad case of it. Philadelphia and Washington are inclined to frown on the
Tango, but Cleveland is receiving the dance with enthusiasm. Baltimore is divided against itself.
The police will not allow the Tango to be danced in public, but it is at present at most private
affairs. Reno is tired of it. Things move fast in Reno.28

The dance was so popular in New Orleans that dance halls sprang up like weeds in the French
Quarter, earning that section of town the title “The Tango Belt.” In Los Angeles, vaudeville the-
atres inserted extra intermissions between the acts so members of the audience could tango up
and down the aisles and out into the foyer.
In Sheboygan, Wisconsin, a society column in Sheboygan Press, on December 18, 1913, gave
the following advice to citizens of its fair city who wanted to keep up with the trend. In addi-
tion to learning to do the dance, one must also know how to properly pronounce it. The colum-
nist wrote, “Another word — you must never forget to hold on to the A in tango as long as
though you had forgotten for the moment what came next.”29
To keep up with the public’s demand for more and more places to dance, some cities
resorted to imaginative solutions. In Atlantic City, the local trolley company introduced the
“Tango Car,” which was outfitted with a parquet floor for dancing. Those in the know predicted
that the new “‘Tango on wheels’ promise[d] to be one of the most popular diversions of the
season.”30 In Chicago, some members of society created a similar novelty called the “Tango
Special,” a freight train car specially outfitted as a ballroom with waxed floors “so that the dance
may continue while the train is traveling fifty miles an hour.”31 The train was created so partiers
could attend Mardi Gras in New Orleans and dance all the way down to the festivities. In Toledo,
Ohio, the Rotary Club put together a similar tango car with “the intention of tangoing from
Toledo to Texas” on their way to the annual Rotary convention in Houston.32
At the end of 1913, Gladys Beattie Crozier’s dance manual, The Tango and How to Dance
It, was published in England. The book appealed not only to fans of the dance, but also to those
11—Development and Dispersion of the Tango 117

“Tangoing on the Beach, Atlantic City, N. J.,” an early twentieth century postcard.

curious about the latest rage. It helped begin the process of standardizing the dance which had
been a hodgepodge that “boasted as many steps as there were days of the year.”33
In March of 1914, Irene and Vernon Castle published their Modern Dancing in the United
States which codified tango steps. The popular young exhibition dancers suggested that per-
haps society’s negative reaction to the tango actually sprang from its difficulty. They wrote,
The Argentine Tango is unquestionably the most difficult of the new dances. Perhaps that is why
some people still maintain that they “do not like it.” Others, never having seen it, declare it
“shocking.” On broad general principles it is human to disapprove of that which is beyond our
understanding or ability.... And so for a long time society looked askance at the Tango.34

The Castles reassured their readers that although it was rumored that the tango required
mastering up to one hundred and sixty different figures—“enough to terrify the most inveter-
ate dancer”35— their method was composed of only six fundamental steps. In addition, the
book’s publisher Elizabeth Marbury assured readers in the introduction that the tango as taught
by the Castles was refined and suitable. She wrote, “There is in it no strenuous clasping of part-
ners, no hideous gyrations of the limbs, no abnormal twistings, no vicious angles.”36
The outbreak of World War I dampened the enthusiasm for the tango, although the dance
did reemerge again full force in the 1920’s renamed the “New French Tango.” During the war
years, Argentina began releasing films that featured the dance. The first film in 1915, was Nobleza
gaucha, followed by Flor de Duranzo and, in 1917, El tango de la muerte, a film whose subject
was solely the tango. After the end of the Great War, Hollywood released a silent film in which
Rudolph Valentino danced with Beatrice Dominguez. Valentino’s mesmerizing tango in Four
Horseman of the Apocalypse glamorized the dance and gained the Latin idol instant celebrity,
insuring his place in tango film history and earning him the nickname “Tango Legs.”

Fashion and Music of the Tango

On April 12, 1914, The New York Times reported, “The clothes of the day cannot be fash-
ioned without due regard to the requirements of the dance.”1 The tango, perhaps more that any
other social dance in modern history, changed styles and influenced fashion trends.
At the annual meeting of the National Association of Clothiers in 1914, attendees were hap-
pily informed, “the tango craze was helping the clothing business, for all of the men who had
been ‘bitten by the tango bug’ were purchasing dress suits and tuxedos.”2 The dancing gentle-
man had to be in style. Author Gladys Beattie Crozier suggested that due to the many venues
for dancing, gentlemen could properly wear anything from traditional formal wear to tweed
suits worn with brown boots for afternoon dances in the country, although “in town, ordinary
calling dress-black morning coat, dark grey striped trousers, and a black waistcoat, with a white
piqué slip in it, and black boots—[was] de rigueur.”3 She acknowledged that “Grey suits, with
cutaway coats, are also sometimes seen, and they look both smart and cool for dancing.”4 The
most ardent tangoists began adopting dinner jackets cut longer in the Argentine style known
as “fumadero tango.” The type of jacket afforded more freedom through the arms and shoul-
ders, so tangoing was easier.
When the tango was featured at fancy dress balls that required costumes, Mr. Percy Ander-
son, “the famous authority on the subject,”5 suggested that gentlemen dress like a Spanish or
Argentine peasant, or a Spanish gypsy. The Spanish peasant outfit consisted of a black suit with
a short Eton-type jacket, tight, black knee-breeches, white shirt and stockings, and a black
straight brimmed hat, the kind usually associated with Valentino, worn low over the eyes.
As an Argentine peasant the gentleman was to wear a chamois leather coat with big fancy
buttons, black velvet knee breeches, and brown leather gaiters with leather fringe down the
sides of the leg. A red cashmere shirt and a white or red sash peeking out underneath a leather
belt provided a splash of color. For headgear, a red handkerchief was tied around the head, with
the ends hanging over the left ear, topped off with a wide straw hat with an upturned brim.
The gentleman’s Spanish gypsy costume was the most dramatic. This consisted of a white
shirt, brown velvet knee pants, “gaping at the outside of the knee and tied with leather thongs
(very narrow),”6 a bright orange sash around the waist, and a brown Spanish shawl decorated
with bobbles, casually thrown over the shoulder. The tango dancer wore a bright orange hand-
kerchief tied tightly round his head, with the warning from Mr. Anderson that “the orange
material must not be silk.”7 Two important props finished off the look — a knife tucked into
the sash and a lighted cigarette dangling from the tango dancer’s mouth.

Women’s Fashions
The tango changed women’s fashions in many ways. Silhouettes became simpler and waist-
lines rose “to eliminate the harsh line of the hips.”8 The idea was to have one free-flowing line
of material that draped from the bustline to the ankles. As fashion icon Irene castle explained,

12—Fashion and Music of the Tango 119

“This lends a supple ease to every movement of the body and tends to improve, from the artis-
tic standpoint, the various measures of the dance.”9 Marthe Urban, French ballerina and leader
in the Paris fashion world, said, “To dance the Tango one must be free from embarrassing
influences— as far as dress is concerned.”10
One way this was accomplished was the use of softer, lighter materials, such as chiffons,
crêpes de Chine, or taffetas in the construction of women’s garments. Stiffer, bulkier materials
were eliminated because “they have a habit of wrapping themselves about one’s feet at the most
inconvenient moment, making it almost impossible to move.”11 The appropriate dance-frock
needed to flow. As Irene Castle put it, “...the demand of the women who dance is, ‘Give me
something soft and light.’”12
The freedom afforded by lighter, simpler garments was augmented by new designs in
corsetry. “The tango corset should be the start and foundation of your tango toilette de luxe.
The accepted model is of silk tricot and but one bone in the front and back. It allows the figure
full play and yet is so admirably constructed that it confines and holds well in its proper place
any undue embonpoint.”13 Irene Castle reaffirmed the importance of wearing the proper corset
while tango dancing:
All these precautions as to the outward gowning are wasted if you continue to wear the long stiff
corsets decreed by fashion when she dismissed our hips and other curves. No amount of grace,
no amount of clever training, and no amount of the knowledge of the most intricate steps will
help you dance charmingly unless your corset has “give” to it and allows you to move with supple
ease and comfort.14

Of course, Mrs. Castle recommended the Castle corset made entirely of elastic and “designed
especially for dancers.”15 Around 1913, the first girdle came into use and was named the “Tango.”
Perhaps the major fashion innovation brought about by the tango concerned the most
prevalent trend of the day — the hobble skirt. To dance the tango, women needed their legs to
be free. Tight hobble skirts made modern dancing awkward, unsightly, and even dangerous. To
accommodate the tango, skirts became fuller. As one paper reported,
The first debt of gratitude the devotees of the fashion world owe to the tango is the additional
width in the skirts. For the past two years the designers have been endeavoring by pleats and
drapery to let in a little more fullness, but enter the tango, and presto change — the wider skirt is
demanded.... Because it was impossible to execute many of the more intricate steps in the
restricted skirts of yesteryear, the tango enthusiasts clamored for wider skirts.16

Slits in the skirt were also introduced. To prevent too much leg from showing, a pleated
underskirt, petticoat, or bloomers were worn underneath. Culottes, called tango trouserettes,
became the most popular choice for tangoing. In “New Customs, New Costumes,” an article
published in the New Oxford Item, in New Oxford, Pennsylvania on February 2, 1912, the fash-
ion reporter explained,
While the idea of “trousers” may seem startling at first; they are really modest garments, for they
conceal the legs, and even the ankles, in a way that they have not been enveloped for years, not
since the good old days when pantelettes made hoop skirts modest.... They solve the problem for
the tango dancer in an ideal manner: they are voluminous when the wearer is in action and
slinky when the body is in a state of rest.17

Tango trouserettes came in a variety of styles. Some came almost up to the shoulders, oth-
ers fell from the waistline, and still others were attached with garters at the knees. Generally
made of a light material, such as chiffon, and often trimmed in lace, the garments were some-
times so full they appeared to be skirts.18
Over these trouserettes the skirt is draped in almost any desired style. For tangoing, the rounded
fronts have been found successful, more so than the back slashing, though both are often seen.
120 Part III. The Tango

When the side slashing is selected, both sides are generally slit, and volants of lace are inset in the

Lingerie, especially stockings, was dyed to match the petticoat and often decorated with
lace, jewels or other adornments. One fashion reporter explained that in all cases, “tango stock-
ings are agleam with spangled flora and fauna.”20 Irene Castle wrote, “There are filmy stock-
ings with anklets embroidered in colored gems, lace-encrusted hose with silver embroideries,
and, of course, all kinds of clocks and butterflies to draw attention to a slender foot and ankle.
Any of these may be worn without violating good taste....”21
Long, difficult-to-maneuver trains were eliminated. “The fashions of 1914 have done away
with it, because — you could not dance in a train!”22 Because tangoists danced morning, noon,
and night, more formal evening gowns that did feature a small train were designed so they
could “be clamped up under the drapery of the skirt in a most satisfactory way.”23
As in ragtime fashions, long tunics were often worn over the dresses. Overdresses, such as
those in the lampshade style were common. Because of the focus on Orientalism, wide obi-like
sashes and kimono sleeves were in style. One popular tango style was the Minaret tunic.
Over the draping there is almost sure to be a Minaret tunic.... The newest Minaret tunics bear a
close resemblance to the skirts of a ballet dancer, and like skirts of the ballet dancer they are cut
so full that they stand out without wiring or boning of any kind. One, two, three, and even four
layers of net are now being used, and wonderful blending of colors are possible.24

Color was an important part of the fashionable tango outfit. Brighter, more garish colors
came into vogue.
One effect of the tango’s enormous popularity was the introduction of the “couleur tango”—
an orangish yellow hue that became popular in the fashions of the day. Legend has it that the
color actually resulted from a mistake. A silk manufacturer accidentally botched some satin he
was dyeing. When the garish color wouldn’t sell and sat for weeks in his shop, he finally put the
material on sale, but hit upon the idea of advertising it as “Satin-Tango.” Immediately the fab-
ric was snapped up and his customers demanded more. Unfortunately the poor fellow had lost
the formula for the tint. Seeing a chance to cash in on the craze, other manufactures quickly
came out with their own versions, claiming that they offered “la véritable couleur tango” or
“true tango color.” Many variations resulted from light yellow to dark reddish orange.
Although tango orange was the most popular shade for tango enthusiasts, other rich col-
ors also came into vogue. “The dark red shades, the dregs of the wine, and the rich green col-
ors are particularly well liked for tango frocks....”25 The tango title was also conferred on other
hues, virtually guaranteeing their success. In an article entitled “Tango Styles in Riot of Color,”
the Oakland Tribune reported on March 12, 1914, “Everywhere one hears ‘tango.’ Tango green,
tango purple, tango rose....”26
The most ardent female tango dancers even dyed their hair in the latest tango colors.
First and topmost of all is the new tango hair which is of the best hectic of hues dubbed tango
red. Perfectly good tango hair may also be done in other equally riotously radiant shades such as
cobalt blue, mauve, nile green or orange. Then your tango dyed locks should be done in the
tango coiffure which means that it must be loosely waved, drawn neatly back from the face and
the back hair fastened and tucked under at one side of the head with a jeweled tango comb or
two jeweled tango pins.27

Small hats made of tulle or lace replaced wide picture hats because “Big hats are unpleas-
ant to dance in.”28 Earlier headgear featured hats worn at an angle adorned with long horizon-
tal aigrette feathers. The tango made imbalanced hats impractical. Instead, small hats, often
tri-corners, were placed in the middle of the head. The placement of feathers also changed
because the quick head turns of the tango made horizontal feathers a danger to the partner, who
12—Fashion and Music of the Tango 121

“Le Tango,” a 1914 Parisian postcard by artist Xavier Sager.

122 Part III. The Tango

could accidentally be blinded.29 One single aiglette was worn vertically. Another popular option
was the little lace cap fashioned after the Dutch style popularized by Irene Castle. Russian head-
dresses were also used. Coiffures became simpler as Mrs. Castle remarked, “because they do
not become untidy when dancing.”30
The dancing craze sparked the tango shoe, a low heel with crossed straps at the ankle, to
hold the shoe securely on the nimble foot. Shoes made for dancing the tango were also length-
ened at the toe “to exaggerate the long deliberate steps”31 of the dance. To add further pizzazz
and catch the attention of admiring spectators, the tango shoe was frequently adorned with
[T]he favored tango slipper is the cothurne with its jeweled tango slides and buckles. Next in
favor to the cothurne is a plain satin slipper with a rhinestone buckle and the newest variation to
be sprung in the buckle ornamentations line are tiny jeweled tassels fastened at the instep which
bob and sparkle seductively at every tango twist and turn.32

Snap and sparkle were important in tango fashion and not restricted to the fleeting glimpse of
a jeweled heel or shoe buckle.
It is with [not] just these fascinating and expensive touches that the jewelers get in the dance.
They have you by the ears with lovely long and bobbing tango eardrops, glistening with semi-
precious gems that scintillate with every toss and quiver of a lovely head. Charming waist-long
strands of vari-colored tango beads they offer also and their latest chef d’ouevre is the tango ring.
It is of a large design, the dimensions of a dinner ring, barbarically Oriental in effect and always
composed of sparking stones that fail not to catch the light and twinkle even as the twinkling
toes. These rings show up well on either fair hand whether it be the one coyly held out stiffly at
right angles to the body in the tango partner’s or the one that rests coyly upon his manly tango

To stay fresh and well put together after such continual dancing, the valise de salon became
a must-have for the true tangoist. The little carrying case might contain a fresh collar, hand-
kerchiefs, and other conveniences. The dancer could easily transport the portable toilette from
morning instruction to afternoon tea dance to evening dinner dance. Some suggested that if
the tango craze continued to grow, “hostesses may soon have to provide a series of tiny toilette
cabinets even with baths, where exhausted dancers may recover from their weariness and renew
their fresh appearance.”34 And after freshening up, the lady tango dancer was given this final,
vital piece of advice, “Of course, as the last essence of tango perfection you must spray your
hair and hanky with the newest Tango perfume and there you are a finished Tango product.”35
The social reporter of the Evening Chronicle in Marshall, Michigan, summed up the all-
encompassing fascination with tango fashions of the day:
Just because everybody’s mad about tango, they must needs have their wardrobe rebuilt to meet
the requirements of the aforesaid tango. So they wear tango slippers, tango corsets, tango gowns
and tango lingerie. And that’s not all. They wear those things in the original tango shade. For it’s
tango, tango, tango, and nothing but tango from alpha to omega. So far, no one can predict just
how far the tango craze will effect [sic] milady’s wardrobe; but if it has so violent an effect upon
her wardrobe as it has upon her festivities, it will be all tango, wholly tango, and nothing but
tango. For that’s the last word of the hour. And the world has apparently gone tango mad.36

Tango Music
The music of the tango developed from a rich variety of sources similar to those of the
dance. Rhythmical elements were contributed from African influences and rural Argentine
dances, and the Cuban Habanera contributed European elements found in French contradance.37
12—Fashion and Music of the Tango 123

The earliest tango music was generally improvised. Untrained musicians interacted with the
complex and often unpredictable steps of the dancers, and as movements were repeated and
new ones invented, melodies that matched the rhythms were created. These songs were even-
tually refined.
Primitive tango bands, often trios who experimented with the form, developed the music
into its distinctive sound. Historians often refer to these early musicians as the Guardia Vieja
or “Old Guard.” The various combinations of players might include flute, clarinet, violin, harp,
or guitar.38
The large influx of Italian immigrants to Buenos Aires at the turn of the century brought
with them other instruments such as the accordion and the mandolin that soon augmented
early tango bands. The Italianization of the tango also included the melodic influence of Neapoli-
tan songs. The ideal combination of sounds eventually evolved into a tango orchestra com-
prised of six players: two violins, a double bass, a piano, and two bandoneóns.39
The arrival from Germany of the accordion-like bandoneón contributed the most charac-
teristic sound of tango music.40 The instrument had been invented in Germany in the mid 1800’s
and was used by poor communities as a substitute when they could not afford a church organ.
When the instrument was introduced in Argentina, it was originally used for playing polkas
and waltzes, but soon was accompanying the early forms of the tango. Because of the technical
difficulty of playing the bandoneón, many players could not keep up with the rapid steps
employed by early dancers moving to the driving beat of African-influenced rhythms. Dancers
were forced to slow down to accommodate players and so the languid feel of the tango devel-
In the 1880’s, tango music moved away from pure improvisation as composers began writ-
ing simple piano pieces for publication. By the 1890’s musicians were publishing more struc-
tured, complex, and fully developed forms that eventually evolved into true tango music as it
is known today.
With the new century the musical tradition took on a definite life of its own. In fact while the
dance lost much of its original fierce, aggressive, erotic character (as it more or less had to do in
order to be accepted in the ballrooms of the world), the music that went with it gradually became
richer and more sophisticated — became, in fact, a tradition in popular music in its own right.41

The invention of the phonograph and improvements in recording technology were instru-
mental in helping spread the music of the tango. Angel Villoldo, sometimes called the “Father
of the Tango,” is credited with recording the first tango in Paris in 1907. In 1911, Columbia
Records hired Vicente Greco and his sextet to put out tangos. Juan Maglio, known by the nick-
name Pacho, also recorded tangos that were enormously popular.
Around this same time the tango song began to develop with words set to the popular tango
tunes of the day. Many of these early songs contained lyrics that referred to the early disrep-
utable origins of the dance. Many notable singers became associated with the tango. Perhaps
the most renowned was Carlos Gardel,42 whose tango singing would secure him a place as “Latin
America’s greatest popular singer of the twentieth century, and the tango’s supreme legend.”43

Reaction to the Tango

As the tango grew in popularity, those who opposed the dance sought to eradicate it. In
November of 1913, the New York Times reported that in Germany, in addition to threatening his
officers with immediate dismissal if they did the tango or fraternized with any people who did,
the Kaiser warned members of the Royal Opera House ballet against participating in any char-
ity entertainments where tango competitions were included.1 Orders were issued in the Aus-
tro-Hungarian army that “officers in uniform are not allowed to dance the tango.”2 Shortly after
the Kaiser’s ruling, the King of Bavaria also put a ban on the tango, calling the dance “absurd.”3
The most far-reaching condemnation came from Rome; the Vatican issued a circular call-
ing the tango “offensive to the purity of every right-minded person.”4 In December of 1913,
reports appeared in papers around the globe that a toned-down version of the tango had been
presented in a demonstration before Pope Pius X so he could judge whether or not it was still
immoral.5 Many waited breathlessly to hear the Pope’s verdict. After seeing it, the Pontiff
remarked that if the tango were made a penance for sins, it would be “looked upon as sheer cru-
In January of 1914, Cardinal Cavallari, Patriarch of Venice, issued the following statement
regarding the tango; “It is everything that can be imagined. It is revolting and disgusting. Only
those persons who have lost all moral sense can endure it. It is the shame of our days. Whoever
persists in it commits a sin.” Cavallari then ordered that absolution be denied “to those who,
having danced the tango, do not promise to discontinue the practice.”7
Several French bishops joined in the attacks against the tango and urged the Cardinal-
Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Amette, to join them in the crusade to eradicate the immoral
dance. It was hoped that if he did, “it would prove a death blow to the tango in real Parisian
society, although it may not affect the somewhat nondescript cosmopolitan agglomeration which
forms its fringe and seeks to pass itself off as the real thing.”8 Monsignor Amette, agreed, and
on January 11, 1914, the Primate of France published a scathing attack on the tango, calling it
“ its nature indecent and offensive to morals.”9 He admonished other clerics to keep the
wicked dance in mind when hearing confessions and called for a complete ban of the dance.
Many members of society reluctantly shied away from the tango. One “professor of dancing”10
sued Cardinal Amette for his lost income after the decree. The tango teacher said that after the
Prelate’s decree against the dance, he lost several pupils from fashionable circles.
In Paris, the battle between supporters of the tango and those who detested the dance grew
to epic proportions. On February 16, 1914 an article appeared in the Mercure de France calling
the tango “une danse de filles publiques,”—“a whores’ dance.” It stated that the tango “led to
drunkenness and murderous brawls” and that it was “a sure path to indecency, authorizing
poses and movements which make the body of the purest woman look infamous.” The article
added that young people performing the tango “were acting like monkeys from the Andes.”11
Around the same time, the President of France, Monsieur Poincaré, prohibited the tango
from being danced at palace functions. The tango was even banned at the Argentine Embassy
in Paris. The minister plenipotentiary to Paris, Enrique Rodriguez Larreta stated:

13—Reaction to the Tango 125

The tango is in Buenos Aires a primitive dance of houses of ill repute and of the lowest kind of
dives. It is never danced in polite society nor among persons of breeding. To Argentine ears it
awakens the most disagreeable feelings. I see no difference whatsoever between the tango that is
danced in elegant Parisian dance halls and that which is danced in the basest nightspots in
Buenos Aires.12

Eventually, municipal authorities drew up a decree banning the tango. By April 12, 1915,
five tango teachers were issued decrees of expulsion from the capital city for disobeying a ban
against the dance. Paris, the city that was most identified with the start of the tango craze, now
turned its back on the dance.
In England, the tango also created furor. Several leading London hostesses came out against
the dance. The Duchess of Norfolk said, “In my opinion such dances are not desirable; for the
tango in itself and in the comments that it leads to is surely foreign to our English nature and
ideals, of which I hope we are still proud.”13 Others joined her in condemning the dance:
Lady Coventry does not think it desirable that the tango should be danced at social functions.
Lady Layland-Barratt considers it an immodest and suggestive dance, altogether impossible for
any girl of refinement or modesty. Lady De Ramsey strongly disapproves the tango and would
never let it be danced in her house. Lady Beatrice Wilkinson says: “Never having seen the tango
danced, I am not in a position to give an opinion. If, however it is anything like the horrible
dances of negroid origin which have for the moment ruined English ballrooms, I very strongly
object to it.14

Initially, Queen Mary herself heartily disapproved of the dance, although her prejudice
against the tango changed after she witnessed a private demonstration by Maurice Mouvet and
Florence Walton. The couple showed how the dances should be done in polite society.15
In Luxemburg, one newspaper refused to accept any advertisements that even mentioned
the tango, including “advertisements for lessons in this dance, announcements of any functions
where it is to be danced, and even notices where tango music and the score of one or the other
of the half dozen tango operettas may be seen and purchased.”16
Even in Argentina, the birthplace of the tango, many people opposed the dance. One paper
reported, “ is not considered very nice even to mention the dance among respectable peo-
ple of that land — the land of the tango.... It is looked upon as something terrible, unmention-
able. There is an ironclad ban against it in polite circles.”17

Moral Objections to the Tango

The Rev. Charles A Eaton, the pastor of the Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York
City said,
It is a craze, a form of nervous degeneracy. It has been stimulated, first, by unwholesome social
conditions, and, second, by commercialism. People of all walks of life seem to have abandoned
their common sense, their sense of self-possession, and in many cases their morals. Instead of
using the dance as a modest and beautiful means of recreation, it has degenerated into a sort of
civilized “snake dance.” I don’t know what the parents of our country are thinking about. They
throw their children to the crocodiles as the Indian mothers used to do, but the former without
any religious motive. They are consumed by an itch for social advance, and they think the only
way to get into society is to dance in.18

The management of one large dance hall went so far as to hang the effigy of “a most dis-
reputable-looking” dancer in its front window. Over it was a sign that read: “We have got him,
the dirty miserable Tango. This is a respectable dance hall, you CANNOT dance the TANGO
here.”19 The window also included anti-tango quotations from the ballerina Anna Pavlova.
126 Part III. The Tango

In Chicago, the city council wanted two questions answered: “What is the tango?” and
“When is it immoral?”20 They ordered Mayor Harrison to create a “tango committee” to mon-
itor anyone who attempted the dance in cabarets and theatres and to provide suggestions for
creating a tango ordinance.
The Dean of All Saint’s Episcopal Church in Spokane, Washington barred all members of
his parish from dancing the tango. The Very Reverend W. C. Hicks sneered at the dance saying,
“Two young people interlocking knees and putting their chests together and then pushing each
other across the floor with a duck-like walk are not dancing.”21
The Cardinal of New York did not call for an outright ban of the tango, but did make it
known in no uncertain terms that “the tango is degrading and he has resolved to do all he can
to discourage it.”22 In March of 1914, men and women from the Salvation Army invaded sev-
eral restaurants where patrons were doing the tango and exhorted the dancers to “pause and
reflect that there was also a serious side of life.”23 Evangelist Bob Jones declared that New York-
ers were tangoing themselves “on the brink of hell,” adding, “the only difference between Man-
hattan and hell is that Manhattan is surrounded by water.”24
The clergy’s virulent opposition to the dance led some members of high society to rethink
the dance. The New York Junior Auxiliary recalled 600 invitations to one of their events out of
fear the tango would be done. The Knights of Columbus also barred the tango from its annual
ball at Madison Square Gardens, even going so far as to appoint a censoring committee of 150
to patrol and make sure no one tried the dance.
Despite exhortations from the pulpits across the country, true tango fanatics refused to
give up the dance. The New York Times reported on February 1, 1914 on one humorous incident
that took place in Atlantic City. It stated, “Warfare on the tango took a new turn here to-day
when Mrs. Lillian Boniface Albers, soloist of St. Paul’s Methodist Episcopal Church choir,
received the alternative of giving up the dance or resigning her place in the choir. She resigned
When Cleveland barred the teaching of the tango, dancing teacher Asa Anderson sued the
city. At the trial, he asked to demonstrate the dance with one of his pupils before the judge to
prove the dance’s harmlessness. The judge did not make a final ruling immediately but did
give his “nod of approval” to the dance. He later ruled “...the tango as taught by Anderson
is perfectly moral and can be so danced.” In his opinion, Judge Vickery added, “ Every beauti-
ful thing may be vulgarized. But because some dancing is vulgar, we could not bar all danc-
Citing indecency and immorality as reasons for banning the dance, several American Uni-
versities barred the tango, including Kansas University, The University of Wisconsin, the Uni-
versity of Vermont, Notre Dame, and Yale to name just a few. Harvard prohibited the tango
from being danced by any member of the track team stating that the dance “does not tend to
make outdoor athletes.”27 It also banned the tango in its chemical laboratories after thousands
of dollars worth of equipment were damaged by students jarring the floor while tangoing in the
science classrooms.
High schools and other institutions of learning also barred the tango. Some teachers in
Pittsburgh were not happy when the school board declared that dancing the tango “left the
teachers in poor condition physically to teach the day after.”28 When they prohibited the dance,
the teachers went on strike, giving the school board an ultimatum — if they could not tango,
they would not teach.
The tango also affected the workforce. In 1913, Stanley W. Finch, head of the National Social
Welfare League stated that the dance was having a crippling negative economic impact upon
business. Finch revealed that he had heard from several businessmen around the U. S. who com-
plained that the craze was getting out of hand. One wrote to him and lamented, “The tango has
13—Reaction to the Tango 127

A 1914 French postcard by Xavier Sager that captures the scandalous sensuality of the tango.
128 Part III. The Tango

taken such a grip upon our best employees that their capacity for work is cut in two. They go
out and dance the newfangled twists half the night; the next morning they have none of their
former vigor, and the result is that the whole business suffers greatly because they are no longer
able to turn out their accustomed amount of work.”29

Tango Pirates and Pickpockets

At the height of the tango craze in the United States, The New York Times ran an article
that contained the following photo caption: “Afternoon Dances Develop a New Kind of Para-
site Whose Victims Are the Unguarded Daughters of the Rich.” The parasite referred to was the
tango pirate — a dancing lothario who bilked money out of young women at thé dansants. This
new breed of thief had to be an excellent dancer and elegantly dressed to the nines.30 The Times
reported, “During the Fall, Winter and Spring these young fellows invariably wear a silk hat,
usually tilted at an angle of forty-five degrees. In the Summer they wear, before dark, the most
fashionable straws. And cutaway coats. And spats— always spats. I have seen fifty of them and
never one without spats.”31
A tango pirate, also sometimes called a social gangster, flattered his victim, seducing her
with words and the latest tango moves, but usually not having sex with her, “knowing the
moment she has broken with her family his avenue of profit is cut off. He doesn’t want the
girl; he wants her money.”32 In addition to the titillation of dancing the tango with a handsome,
dangerous young man, these naïve young women were frequently introduced to drugs, typi-
cally, cocaine. Many tango pirates were users themselves. The Times went so far as to claim,
“...all of these tango pirates are victims of the cocaine habit, or in its advanced stage, the heroin
The problem was widespread in large cities and articles and editorials appeared advising
parents to keep their daughters away from tango teas. They were warned, “ girl can spend
her afternoons in the cafés and escape with her money — or her reputation, even if she survives
with all else.34
One tango pirate case that captured the attention of the press and the public involved nine-
teen-year-old heiress, Eugenia Kelly. The daughter of a prominent New York banking family,
Miss Kelly began to frequent the “’trotteries’ of the gay white way.”35 She struck up an acquain-
tance with a tango pirate by the name of Al Davis.36 He was an older married man and a pro-
fessional dancer, and Eugenia lavished him with jewelry and other expensive gifts. Miss Kelly’s
mother, concerned with Davis’ “continued pernicious influence”37 and troubled by Eugenia’s
late-night forays, feared that the cabaret life was “seducing her daughter into a life of modern
evil.”38 The distraught mother petitioned the courts “to have Eugenia declared incorrigible and
remanded to her care or jailed.”39 On May 21, 1915, detectives arrested the young girl. During
the trial, the judge sided with the young girl’s mother, and warned Eugenia to give up the
“Broadway crowd.”40 After three days of fighting against the prosecution’s case, a rebellious
Eugenia learned that she might lose her ten million dollar inheritance and reluctantly repented.41
She stated before the judge, “I was wrong and mother was right.... I realize now that I was daz-
zled by the glamour of the white lights and the music and the dancing of Broadway.”42 The Dis-
trict Attorney who worked on the case commented, “ all my experience I have never met
with such a case as this. It is awful when you think how these Broadway parasites can fasten
upon young women and filch from them their estates.”43
Another notorious tango pirate case involved the murder of thirty-five-year-old Mrs. Elsie
Lee Hilar of Brooklyn, who was strangled at the Hotel Martinique on March 15, 1917, and robbed
of $2,500 worth of jewelry.44 The Kelly and Hilar Cases proved to critics of the tango that the
13—Reaction to the Tango 129

dance and the men who did it were inherently dangerous. The tango not only threatened the
sanctity of the home, but also one’s life.45
The police classified similar types of criminals prevalent at the time as “tango pickpock-
ets.” Like tango pirates, tango pickpockets were people of questionable character who were
given access to ballrooms simply because they were good dancers.
Thus an attractive young woman, who for some weeks frequented the exclusive society of a danc-
ing club where she was believed to be a Russian Princess, turned out to be lady’s maid, while a
number of ex-waiters, ballet dancers, and circus performers playing the roles of Argentine mil-
lionaires have enjoyed unlimited hospitality in some of the best social circles on the strength of
their skill in the tango.46

Masquerading as someone of a different class may have been distasteful, but the real prob-
lem was that “...many of these pseudo-aristocrats have been taking full advantage of the com-
plicated attitudes which the tango and its kindred dances involve to pick pockets and purloin
jewelry.”47 The victims didn’t notice the thefts because they were concentrating so hard on exe-
cuting the intricate steps of the tango.
Because of these dangers as well as questions about the decency of the dance, politicians
and office holding officials lambasted the tango. In 1914, the Massachusetts state legislature con-
sidered a bill making it a crime to dance the tango. The penalty for breaking the law was a
$50.00 fine for the first offence and six months in jail for the second. Mayor Fitzgerald of Boston
issued orders for a policeman and matron to stand guard at every dance hall to see that the tango
was not danced. He announced that any establishment that allowed the dance would have its
license revoked.
Mayor Gaynor of New York, in an effort to curb improper behavior at tea dances, tried to
do away with the tango. He said some thé dansants had gotten so out of hand they had become
“lascivious orgies,”48 although André Bustanoby defended the dances at his well-known estab-
lishment declaring that tango teas were really a necessity. “The afternoon dance is necessary
because so many women eat rich foods and pastry, and they get fat if they don’t take some exer-
cise. Here they dance and grow graceful and slim.”49 Another restaurant owner prevented inap-
propriate behavior on his dance floor with a unique method. He explained, “If any people
offend,” he said,” we turn the spotlight on them and make them behave.”50

Medical Objections
As tangoitis infected more and more of the population, an article in the Journal of the
American Medical Association purported that the tango and other modern dances were “poten-
tially harmful amusements.”51 It stated that middle-aged dancers should not “fail to observe
that nice, long word ‘potentially’.... In fact, if you are a man you might paste it in your hat. And
if you happen to be a woman, you might pin it — somewhere.”52 The esteemed journal also
warned that “elderly dancers were in danger of putting too great a strain on a dilated heart or
an arterio-scleriotic artery,”53 and that dances like the tango could aggravate kidney trouble.
As a side note, the Journal added, “Insomnia may haunt what is left of the night after one has
danced most of it away.”54
Reporting on the journal’s findings, The New York Times stated that middle-aged men
should entertain extra caution when dancing with young girls “who aren’t any more troubled
with high blood pressure than a feather is that floats around on the wind.”55 The paper also
declared that “dancer’s heart” was “already talked of among professionals,”56 and that it was a
common occurrence for some cabaret dancers to faint after performing.
130 Part III. The Tango

Many ailments were attributed to the tango. The New York Times reported on a new dis-
ease affecting Paris called “fallen stomach.” The paper said that the malady was a “fashionable
ailment, the effect of too much tangoing”57 and resulted when people danced too soon after eat-
ing. To combat the problem, the following treatment was prescribed: “Immediately after eat-
ing lie down for half an hour with the legs in the air, at least higher than the body.”58 Some
knowledgeable physicians suggested that Paris salons “would have to be provided with bars and
railings on which guests not entirely recovered may be able to place their feet at proper angle
with the body after dinner.”59
In Berlin, Dr. Gustave F. Boehme diagnosed a new disease he called “tango foot.” The syn-
drome resulted from over-stretching the muscles of the foot and leg while dancing the tango.
In an article in the Medical Record Dr. Boehme, a neurologist at the West Side German Dispen-
sary and Hospital said the “new affliction [was] due entirely to our love of the aesthetic and the
joyous.”60 Symptoms include pain in the front of the leg, the lower part of the calf, and the ankle,
and other joint problems.
The doctor stated that “the foot symptoms are precisely the same as seen in the wage earner
who operates a foot-power sewing machine,”61 indicating that whereas the repetitive stress on
the extremities from constant tangoing may have caused the problem, “...simple cessation from
dancing is all that is necessary”62 for curing the disease. The doctor also had various lotions that
he recommended to reduce swelling.
Another concern was “tango face.” The editor of the Photographic News, Carl E. Akerman,
said that the tango was causing wrinkles to appear on women’s faces because they were taking
the pastime too seriously.

The tango face is a real menace to the good looks of the American woman. It is characterized by
deep, dark hollows under the eyes, by indentations from the nose to the corners of the mouth, by
a number of fine lines on forehead and on cheeks, and finally by a wooden smile, unmoved and

Akerman added, “The real reason why many women tango dancers have such a strained, unnat-
ural expression is because they are constantly trying to look proper while doing what they
secretly believe is improper. The set smile means that they are endeavoring to look happy when
they have lost all spontaneous pleasure and are only craze driven.”64
Announcing his finding at the convention of the National Association of Photographers
held in Atlanta, “ proof he added the fact that photographers find increasing difficulty in
making satisfactory pictures of feminine tangomaniacs.”65 Reporting on Akerman’s findings, the
Waterloo Times-Tribune, in Waterloo, Iowa, concluded, “The tango has been blamed for almost
every conceivable mishap from broken arches to broken homes, but perhaps the most porten-
tous charge against it of all is now being brought against it. For an excellent authority, the tango
is accused of spoiling the beauty of the American woman.”66
Miss Marguerite Lindley, an expert in physical economics, noted that the backward bend
and the quick side dip in the tango were injurious to the health and “may do great harm.”67
Unhealthy situations were exacerbated by “late hours, nerve strain and excessive exercise in tight
clothes.”68 Some suggested that because of all the new steps they had to learn, women were suf-
fering from too much strain on their brains.
Tango madness certainly took its toll. On the night of February 6, 1913, a Parisian tailor
named Guenard began throwing furniture out the window of his fourth floor apartment onto
the street below, nearly hitting passersby. The man looked out the window to the stunned crowd
below and shouted,” I must have room to dance the tango.” The New York Times reported,
“When the police arrived Guenard was seized after a struggle. He was found to have become
13—Reaction to the Tango 131

There were reports of serious injuries and even death associated with tangoing. Profes-
sional dancer Ida Crispi broke her arm while doing a variation of the Argentine tango called
the Yankee tangle when she fell near the end of the dance. In his memoir, They All Sang, Edward
Marks wrote of Henry Blossom, librettist of Mlle. Modiste, who broke his leg dancing the tango.
Mrs. Ethel Fitch Conger also broke her leg, and planned to seek legislation against the dip.70
Joseph E. Bishop broke his arm, sprained his ankle, and suffered internal injuries because of
the tango. Forty wedding guests were dancing the tango at his wedding when the hall collapsed.
His bride’s injuries were so severe, doctors expected her to die.
One high school student collapsed and died after dancing the tango for seven straight
hours. In Louisville, Kentucky, Emma Schuchman, “tangoed to death.”71 The seventeen-year-
old died of heart failure in the middle of the dance floor. Thirty-three-year old John Noyes Fail-
ing also died from heart disease on the dance floor while dancing at a weekly meeting of the
Progressive Tango Club. As proof of how dangerous the tango was at any age, Marks wrote of
a 102-year-old man who died within a week of his first try at the tango.72
Death by tango also made its way into the courts. Daniel Spencer who was charged with
manslaughter in the untimely death of William H. Brown was later released when Miss Ollie
Thompson testified that Brown had actually lost his life as a result of dancing the tango. She
revealed that Brown was “tangoing with her, when he struck his head against a door, knocking
a panel out.”73 After demonstrating to Judge Ely and the court how the accident happened as
they danced, Spencer was acquitted.
Perhaps the most notorious tango case to hit the courts was that of the murder of dance
instructor Mrs. Mildred Allison-Rexroat near Chicago. The young woman had divorced her first
husband, Mr. Allison, and left her three children to pursue “the lure of the gayer life of tango
dancing.”74 She met Everett Rexroat, a farmboy who had come to Chicago to learn the tango
himself, and the two courted on the dance floor, eventually marrying. They soon split because
Mildred realized she didn’t really love Everett “but simply was danced into marrying him.”75
Alone and struggling to make a living, Mildred started teaching tango at a Chicago dancing
academy. Then the shadowy Henry Spencer came into the picture. An unemployed cigar clerk,
Spencer took tango lessons from Mildred. He soon became obsessed with the young divorcée
and started stalking her. He suggested that Mildred form a tango class in the nearby town of
Wheaton. On the night of September 13, 1914, he lured her out of the city on the pretense of
showing her the ideal location. Spencer choked and then shot Mildred, leaving her body on the
railroad tracks. Her corpse was found when it was struck by a passing train near Wayne,
Illinois. The body was so mutilated, identification was possible only from an inscribed bracelet
the victim wore, and some tattered scraps of a note found on her body. Local papers dubbed
the case, “the tragedy of the tango dance,” lambasting “...the snaky, sinuous, sensual Argen-
tina tango, the dance of the lawless Spanish-American underworld of Buenos Aires, trailed
to the United States by way of Paris [which had] become in Chicago a veritable dance of
Spencer, nicknamed the “tango murderer” and “tango killer,” was finally apprehended. He
confessed not only to Mildred’s murder but also to a score of other serial killings of young
women across the country. At the trial, his defense lawyers pleaded insanity, and Spencer seemed
to support their claims by making frequent outbursts of profanity during his trial. One time,
he knocked down his own attorney and cried, “Let’s cut this damned foolishness and put on a
necktie party. I’m not nutty and willing to be hanged.”77
On November 14, 1914, he was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged. His lawyers
appealed, and the case ended up in the Illinois Supreme Court. On June 15, 1914, the Supreme
Court upheld the lower court’s decision. Spencer was executed on July 31, 1914.
132 Part III. The Tango

Health Benefits from the Tango

Despite the many warnings that the tango was dangerous for one’s health, other voices
argued that the dance had benefits. On December 18, 1913, the Sheboygan Press in Sheboygan,
Wisconsin, ran an editorial on its society page assuring its readers:
We have the word of a well known physical culturist that the tango is the very best sort of tonic
for good health. For the tango, danced properly, according to this authority, brings almost every
muscle into play ... it is a great rejuvenator.78

Vernon and Irene Castle extolled the lasting benefits of tango dancing as healthy exercise.
Gladys Beattie Crozier agreed. She wrote, “Many people find that ten minutes’ rigorous prac-
tice of the Tango twists, dips and sudden turns after the morning bath form a most enlivening
exercise in place of ‘physical drill,’ and is doing wonders for their powers of balance.”79 Crozier
went on to say that “Business men, especially, who suffer from systematic overwork, find the
close attention it requires to master and carry out the many steps and figures a splendid anti-
dote for brain-fag and business worries after a trying day....”80 The “butterflies” and “nuts” of
society, as she calls various flighty women, can also find something to occupy themselves, whereas
“the modern woman suffering from ‘nerves’ declares that in the dreamy, languorous movements
of the French Tango just the soothing qualities she requires are to be found.”81
The Gazette and Bulletin in Williamsport, Pennsylvania reported on May 12, 1914, that some
medical authorities offered their professional opinions that dancing the tango was especially help-
ful to the elderly and middle-aged because it “joggled” the liver. Some said that to do the dance
required looser clothing, which in itself carried enormous benefits. The article stated unequiv-
ocally that according to the Ohio Medical Association, “the tango promises to do as much for
the western woman as unbinding the feet will do for her Chinese sister.”82 The thought was that
since dancing the tango in high heels was out of the question, the tango ushered in the vogue
of lower heels, which were more beneficial to foot health.
A butcher by the name of William Melago actually declared that he owed his life to the
tango. When he accidentally locked himself in his meat freezer for three hours, he danced the
tango to keep himself from freezing to death.
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Origins of the Charleston

As other dances had done in previous eras, the Charleston, quintessential symbol of the
1920’s, ignited social controversy. The dance’s wild, uninhibited movements were viewed by
many as disgusting and decadent, yet the dance became so fashionable and popular, virtually
all levels of society kicked up their heels to the Charleston’s infectious beat. With flailing arms
and legs, angular disjointed movements, and a reckless lack of control, the Charleston perfectly
reflected the defiance, freedom, and turmoil of the period — its quick, syncopated rhythm mir-
roring the chaotic tempo of the Roaring 20’s.
The second decade of the twentieth century was a period of great social change. A manic
energy swept the American nation. Disillusioned with Woodrow Wilson’s idealistic policies, and
weary from the sacrifices of the Great War, Americans sought diversion. Sensationalism reigned;
fads and crazes such as sitting on flagpoles or swallowing goldfish were all the rage.1
America enjoyed unprecedented prosperity — the largest economic boom the country had
ever experienced. New developments in technology and automation saved time and reduced
labor costs. Mass production was in full swing and materialism reigned.2
The rise in automobile use led to dramatic changes in the American social landscape as
people in rural communities gained access to better medical care, higher education, and more
varied forms of entertainment and leisure. Automobile use also offered a means of escape for
young people wishing to be free of parental supervision. The youth of the period dubbed the
car “the struggle buggy.” Victorian courting rituals gave way to petting in a rumble seat.
Mass communication, in the form of radio and motion pictures, also grew rapidly, foster-
ing the cult of celebrity. Names like Charles Lindbergh, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Admiral Richard
Byrd, Amelia Earhart, Babe Ruth and Al Capone became known by millions. Movie magazines
and confession tabloids aroused readers with lurid tales of romance and wild living. Movies
advertised “brilliant men, beautiful jazz babies, champagne baths, midnight revels, petting par-
ties in the purple dawn, all ending in one terrific smashing climax that makes you gasp.”3
The novelty of the radio also grabbed Americans’ attention in 1922 when KDKA, the first
commercial radio station in the United States, broadcast out of Pittsburgh. Other stations quickly
proliferated and households across country listened to the latest dance tunes beamed directly
into their living rooms. Jazz music grew in popularity and became the hallmark of sophistica-
tion and modernity.
Social mores and moral beliefs were being challenged and changed at every angle. Women
had just been given the right to vote in 1919 with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment,
and in 1922 this liberation was underscored with the Cable Act by which married women were
granted U.S. citizenship regardless of their husband’s legal status. In 1921, Margaret Sanger
officiated over the inaugural meeting of the American Birth Control League, and in 1923 the
National Women’s Party was created to push through an Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S.
During the Great War, women had filled in for men in the workplace, and many were not
willing to return to subservient roles and give up economic independence after the Armistice.

136 Part IV. The Charleston

Women who did remain within the sphere of the household found that with the advent of time-
saving household appliances, they spent less time doing ordinary domestic chores and had more
time for leisure activities. Many women, especially the young, began to venture beyond the roles
traditionally assigned to them by society. More and more women danced and drank and smoked
in public. Many adopted a carefree attitude about sex.
[It was] an era of painful contradictions. Still reeling from the Great War and the worldwide wave
of disillusionment that it inspired; both dazzled and bewildered by their sudden access to such
technological wonders as radio, movies, the automobile, and the airplane; torn between the tradi-
tional life of simple rural virtue, and the exciting jazz age that beckoned to them from the streets
of the cities (a lure of sexual experimentation and freedom from responsibility), people
attempted to make sense of their lives.4

In the midst of this turmoil, the Roaring Twenties witnessed the rebirth of the Knights of
the Ku Klux Klan which by 1924 had four million members and exerted powerful political lever-
age. As racism was growing in virulence in the United States, African American culture was
also co-opted by large sections of white society. With the advent of the first all-black musicals
on Broadway and the growing popularity of African American inspired music and dances, all
things “black” were in vogue.
The 1920’s began with much of the American nation in a furor over the enactment of the
Eighteenth Amendment of the Constitution,5 prohibiting the manufacture, sale, or transporta-
tion of alcoholic beverages. Social reformers who favored the Noble Experiment, as Prohibi-
tion was called, believed that it would ameliorate all manner of social evils: ridding the country
of poverty, bringing a reduction in crime, and restoring family values. Evangelist Billy Sunday
predicted that with the banning of liquor, “Men will walk upright now. Women will smile and
children will laugh. Hell will be forever rent.”6 Sunday said that America would be “so dry, she
can’t spit.”7
The results were not what Sunday and many others in the temperance movement had
hoped. Consumption of alcohol increased dramatically. Large scale smuggling operations sprang
up overnight,8 and bathtub gin9 and homemade spirits were concocted with such speed that
authorities were unable to enforce the newly enacted Liquor Laws.10 Speakeasies,11 with their
illicit liquor, scandalous jazz music, and provocative dancing, became symbols of a rebellious
generation seeking to forget the recent war. It was in this chaotic social environment that the
Charleston became the dance of the day.

African Dance
Dance historians believe that the roots of the Charleston can be traced to the ritual tribal
dances of Africa. According to Marshall and Jean Stearns’ seminal classic Jazz Dance: The Story
of American Vernacular Dance, the Charleston bears a striking resemblance to an Obolo dance
performed by the Ibo tribe in West Africa. Similarities are also found among dances of the
Ashanti and Bari-speaking tribes, and the King Sailor Dance of Trinidad. W. G Raffé states in
the Dictionary of Dance that the origin of the Charleston can be traced to a dance called the
batuque from the Cape Verde Islands and Portuguese Guinea in West Africa.12 Historian Fred-
erick Kaigh said, “The children of Africa were doing the Charleston before Julius Caesar had
so much as heard of Britain, and they still are.”13
The African influence on the Charleston was clearly visible in the dance’s use of polyrhyth-
mic body movements. The juxtaposition of various rhythms created a seeming “looseness” in
the Charleston. The wild articulation of the knees in the dance, called bee’s knees, monkey
knees, or the fan, was one of the by-products of this aspect of African dance.
14—Origins of the Charleston 137

Another connection between African dance and the Charleston was the use of improvisa-
tion. Although certain basic steps were recognized as common in the Charleston, invention,
innovation, and individuality were expected while doing the dance, and improvisational breaks
were common among early Charleston dancers. This type of breakaway improvisation pointed
to the dance’s African origins.
The importation of African dance movements to the United States occurred during the
Atlantic slave trade when captured Africans brought their native dances to the Americas. These
ritual movements eventually became more secularized as they were influenced by European sty-
listic elements introduced to the slaves on the plantations. Although many of the original African
rhythms and steps were retained, other aspects were modulated and transformed as European
and other influences cross-pollinated with them. This blending eventually morphed into the
social dance called the Charleston.14
International star Florence Mills said, “I have heard as many stories of the origin of the
Charleston as I have heard cures for colds. I believe one relating to Pickaninnies dancing it on
Plantations outside Charleston, South Carolina in the late [eighteen] ‘fifties, to the Negro tune
called ‘Take Your Foot Out of the Mud and Stick It in the Sand’ to be the most authentic.”15
In her book Black Dance From 1619 to Today, Lynn Fauley Emery states that the original
Charleston was closely linked to a plantation dance called the Jay-Bird.16 She adds, “...Harold
Courlander, said that while the Charleston had some characteristics of traditional Negro dance,
the dance itself ‘was a synthetic creation, a newly devised conglomerate tailored for wide spread
Many dance historians have suggested that the Charleston is descended from parts of a com-
petition dance called the Juba.18 The Juba was derived from an African step dance, the Giouba,
in which one dancer challenged the technical skill of another in a series of bravura solos. Usu-
ally performed by two male dancers inside a circle of other participants,19 the dance started with
the outside ring of dancers circling counterclockwise around the two men in the middle using
an eccentric shuffling step in which one foot was continually lifted. They followed the shuffling
with a step called the Dog Scratch. Then, the two men in the center of the circle began a dance
competition. As they performed increasingly difficult and intricate steps, they were urged on
by the others who clapped, stamped, and slapped their thighs— keeping time, and encouraging
the competitors in verse and song. Each new step was determined by the shouted and sung com-
mands of the observers in a call-and-response format. The rhythmical slapping of the body was
called patting.20 Patting was often used to accompany the Charleston and was an integral part
of the social dance. The practice eventually evolved into the Charleston signature display step
called bee’s knees, which involved crouching down and swinging the knees open and closed
while simultaneously fanning the hands over them.21

The Branle
There have been efforts to trace the Charleston to European antecedents. In an article enti-
tled “The Charleston Traces Its Ancestry Back 400 Years” which appeared in the New York Times
on August 8, 1926, the author Fred Austin quotes Leo Staats, director of the ballet of the Paris
Opéra, “...the Charleston of today is basically the Branle of the sixteenth century with a few
frills added.”22
Austin adds,

Dancing masters may argue that the dance of the hour is a blood brother of some unholy ritual
of the unredeemed African jungle, an off-shoot of cottonfield buck-and-wing or the invention of
138 Part IV. The Charleston

Typical bee’s knees position from 1925. In this publicity shot by the Nation Photo Company, Frank Far-
num coaches Pauline Starke for her upcoming role in the MGM movie A Little Bit of Broadway (cour-
tesy of the Library of Congress).

negro roustabouts, merrymaking on the wharves of the city whose name it bears. M. Staat, with
the annals of l’Academie Nationale de Musique et de la Danse at his back, says it is nonsense —
that the Charleston is merely a variation, a recrudescence in new guise, but embodying the same
underlying principle of the dance that was favored by noble and yokel alike for two centuries.23

Austin writes that Staat points out that the Charleston is not only descended from the
Branle, but also contains other early dances such as pas tortilles or twisting steps which can be
traced to Spain and “dates back to those dancers of Cadiz whose praises were sung in ancient
Rome by Martial, Pliny the Younger and Petronius.”24 He adds that the lifting movements of
pas levés are recognizable in the dance as well as Rue de Vache (literally translated as the “kick
of the cow”) that is seen in the side kick in the Charleston. He further suggests that elements
of the Charleston are also found in the Sailor’s Hornpipe. “The twisting movement of Jack Tar
on the balls of his feet, as he moves backward and forward, simulating hauling a rope, is the
Charleston wing of today, pure and simple.”25
The article states,
Jack Blue and Ned Wayburn may dispute as long as they please about who is entitled to laurel or
hemlock, whichever is the fitting reward for introducing the Charleston to the stage. It doesn’t
matter, for the original Charleston, if M. Staats is right — and early records of dance bear him
out — was publicly performed on the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520, when the court of Fran-
cis I and Henry VII held revel.... The Louvre was the home of the forefather of the steps with
14—Origins of the Charleston 139

which pickaninnies today charm nickels and dimes from the pockets of passers-by in Gotham,
and roisters in the haunts of Francois Villon sang and danced the first Charleston to a tune that
was not jazz. The floors of Versailles and the sward of Fontainebleau vibrated to the shock of
thudding feet, but there was no fear expressed in those days that beams would collapse beneath
the impact.26
Vague references to the origin of the Charleston are found in a few dance books which
mention an illustration entitled “Pretty Caper” found in Harper’s Weekly, October 13, 1866. The
etching shows a gentleman with his right leg splayed out to the side in a typical Charleston
move as he demonstrates the latest stage dance. Some historians have suggested that this indi-
cates the Charleston was performed on stage earlier than during the 1920’s.27

The Early Roots of the Charleston

After Emancipation, many former slaves regarded mobility as the greatest expression of
their newly won freedom. As they left rural areas to find employment, some migrated to urban
centers along the water, hoping to find work loading and unloading ships on the docks. They
carried with them their dances.
Many dance historians believe that the dance known as the Charleston drew its name from
the city of Charleston, South Carolina, where the dance was common among African-Ameri-
can dockworkers. As African-American workers migrated North after World War I, the
Charleston spread to urban centers such as New York City.

This illustration entitled “The Pretty Caper,” appeared in Harper’s Weekly on October 13, 1866. The
splayed arms and legs of the gentleman demonstrating a popular stage dance of his time suggest to some
the movements of the Charleston.
140 Part IV. The Charleston

Other historians more specifically trace the Charleston dance to movements drawn from
the Gullah28 culture of the Sea Islands that lie off Charleston Harbor.29 Most of the inhabitants
of these islands were either slaves or descended from slaves. These African Americans devel-
oped a unique language that combined pigeon English with African dialects and syntax. And,
like African culture, Gullah culture, did not separate music from the dance. The unique rhythms
and accompanying dance rituals of Gullah culture were often taken over by Charleston’s early
jazz and ragtime musicians.
One clear example of this was with the Jenkins Orphange Band,30 which frequently uti-
lized Gullah, or geechie music, as it was also called. True to tradition, the band featured young
dancers who performed geechie steps in front of the musicians, conducting as they danced.
Many scholars believe that the Jenkins Orphanage Band was largely responsible for spreading
the Gullah inspired Charleston steps as they traveled the country trying to raise funds for the
In his biography Music on My Mind, jazz piano great Willie “the Lion” Smith, recalled,
One musician [from the Jenkins Orphanage Band], Russell Brown, used to do a strange little
dance step and the people of Harlem used to shout out to him as he passed by “hey Charleston,
do your Geechie dance.” The kids in the Jenkins Orphanage Band also used to do Geechie steps
when they came to Harlem on their annual tour.31

James P. Johnson, composer of the tune “The Charleston,” remembered seeing the Gullah
dances while playing piano at a club called The Jungles Casino32 in New York City in 1913,
The people who came to The Jungles Casino were mostly from around Charleston, South Car-
olina, and other places in the South. Most of them worked for the Ward Line as longshoremen or
on ships that called at Southern ports.... They picked their partners with care to show off their
best steps and put sets, cotillions, and cakewalks that would give them a chance to get off. The
Charleston, which became a popular dance step on its own, was just a regular cotillion step with-
out a name. It had many variations— all danced to the rhythm that everyone knows now. One
regular at the Casino, named Dan White, was the best dancer in the crowd and he introduced the
Charleston step as we know it. But there were dozens of other steps used, too. It was while play-
ing for these southern dancers that I composed a number of Charlestons— eight in all — all with
the damn rhythm. One of these later became my famous “Charleston” when it hit Broadway.33

Johnson was also exposed to Gullah musical motifs, rhythms, and dance steps in the form
of the Ring Shout as a child. Johnson’s parents frequently entertained in their New Brunswick,
New Jersey home, performing shout dances with their friends. Johnson recalled,
I’d wake up as a child and hear an old-fashioned ring-shout going on downstairs.... They danced
around in a circle and then they would shove a man or woman out into the center and clap
hands. This would go on all night and I would fall asleep sitting at the top of the stairs in the

The Ring Shout, whose roots can be traced back to African circle dances,35 was used dur-
ing Afro-Protestant worship services,36 but eventually began to be performed in secular circum-
stances. The dance was common in the Gullah culture in South Carolina and Georgia, although
forms of the shout were disseminated elsewhere. Performed in a circle, the Ring Shout, also
called “running sperichils,” was performed with the whole body and included the tapping of
feet, flat-footed shuffles, clapping, waving of the arms, and shouting. Often during the dance,
the worshippers lost control and “cut de pigeon wing” as they entered the trance state called
“falling out.” Spontaneity and communal participation were essential elements. Although the
main form of the Ring Shout was a group dance, solo forms developed as well, especially in
North Carolina and Virginia.
Musically, the Ring Shout consisted short repeated refrains that were interspersed with
short melodic statements, in the African tradition of antiphonal call-and-response. These were
14—Origins of the Charleston 141

improvisationally varied in intensity and rhythm. Johnson, known as the father of stride piano,
later utilized this format in his composing. The stride style was originally called the shout style.37
Another pianist of the time, Willie “The Lion Smith” Smith stated, “Shouts are stride piano—
when James P. and Fats [Waller] and I would get a romp-down stomp going, that was playing
rocky, just like the Baptist people sing.”38
Although started as a religious dance, the Ring Shout eventually made its way to the sec-
ular stage of minstrel shows in the form of the Walk Around, the finale of the show during which
the entire cast danced, sang, and paraded. Because of the wide appeal of minstrel shows, the
dance received considerable exposure and eventually influenced other secular dances. It is
believed that the Cakewalk was in some ways a derivative of the Ring Shout. Another offshoot
of the Ring Shout was the Big Apple, with its call-and-response, shuffling steps, and improvi-
sational nature. Others have recognized Shout steps that were later used in the Charleston.

Development and Dispersion

of the Charleston

Charleston on the Stage

The minstrel dance team of Golden and Grayton claimed to have been the first perform-
ers to bring the Charleston to the American stage. As early as 1890, the blackfaced duo did a
dance move in their act called patting rabbit hash,1 which was directly related to a part of the
Charleston. It was described as;
[A] brisk recitative accompanied by patting and slapping the hands on the knees, hips, elbows,
shoulders, and forearms, producing triple time and rolls almost like a snare drum.2

Whether they were the first to present the dance on stage or not remains conjecture, how-
ever, years later the team again used patting in their vaudeville act. This act featured recogniz-
able Charleston dance steps with the patting used in the form of the traditional bees knees with
the body crouched over and the arms fanning over the knees.
The Charleston gained national attention with the advent of the all-black musicals, pop-
ular on the New York stage in the early ’20’s. The dance was probably used in some form in the
groundbreaking Shuffle Along3 although there is no definitive record of the dance being officially
inserted into the musical. Members of the original cast have been associated with “introduc-
ing” the dance in various ways. Chorus member Adalaide Hall,4 for example, is said to have
taught the Charleston to Rudolph Valentino; Josephine Baker5 is credited with introducing the
dance to Paris audiences. Stearns and Stearns mention that dancer Mae Barnes6 did the
Charleston in one of the road companies of Shuffle Along “long before the dance became a hit.”7
The first official documentation of the Charleston being used on Broadway was in the 1922
musical Liza,8 the first all-black show to play during the regular Broadway season. The last num-
ber of the show was called “The Charleston Dancy,” composed by Maceo Pinckard. The num-
ber was performed by a male tap dancer named R. Eddie Greenlee9 and a chorus line of girls
lead by Maude Russell.10 Greenlee said, “In that show [Liza] Maude Russell and I danced the
Charleston.”11 Russell proudly claimed that she was the one who had introduced the Charleston
to Broadway. She remembered, “I used to kick 32 times across the stage, and my legs would hit
my nose. I was a dancing fool.”12
The following year on Broadway, a black dancer named Leonard Harper 13 did a few
Charleston steps in a musical called How Come?14 The show, which opened on April 16, 1923,
featured two songs, “Charleston Cut-out” and “Charleston Finale,” but the show was poorly
received and only lasted for 32 performances.
The Charleston didn’t truly catch the public’s attention until it was put in another all-black
show called Runnin’ Wild,15 which opened in New York on October 29, 1923. A specialty rag-
time song written by James P. Johnson16 and Cecil Mack17 entitled “The Charston,” later renamed
“The Charleston,” was featured in the show. The number was sung by a fourteen-year-old

15—Development and Dispersion of the Charleston 143

The cover of Cecil Mack’s and James P. Johnson’s “The Charleston” from the Broadway show Runnin’
Wild. The 1923 sheet music included printed directions by Oscar Duryea of how to correctly perform
the dance. The last line of the instructions warned, “Discretion should be used as to how pronounced
the Charleston ‘kick up,’ and ‘toddle’ movements are made for ballroom dancing.”
144 Part IV. The Charleston

chorine named Elisabeth Welch.18 A chorus of boy dancers known as “The Dancing Redcaps”19
did a wild Charleston dance to the tune, accompanying it with hand clapping, foot stomping
and high-stepping energy. One eyewitness said,
When Miller and Lyles introduced the dance in their show, they did not depend wholly upon
their extraordinary good jazz band for the accompaniment; they went straight back to [early]
Negro music and had the major part of the chorus supplement the band by beating out the time
with hand-clapping and foot patting. The effect was electrical. Such demonstration of beating out
complex rhythms had never been seen before on a stage in New York.20

“The ‘Charston,’ sung by Elisabeth Welch” was only briefly mentioned in Variety’s review
of the show on November 1, 1923, and didn’t receive real critical raves until the show’s Philadel-
phia run.21 By 1924, however, critics were calling Runnin’ Wild “the fastest dancing show ever
produced.”22 One reviewer said,
Its chorus dances with a religious fervor. Enthusiasm is the keynote. It is inspiring to watch them
work. Bewildering. There is no soldiering on the job for this group — no affectations, just a group
of dancing dervishes imbued with the joy of living and passing it on to the audiences. When they
dance an inexplicable something fills the theatre and makes the audience gasp for breath.23

Accounts vary as to how the dance made its way into the show. One version states that
before the opening of Runnin’ Wild, the show’s writer, Flourney Miller, had seen three young-
sters performing an impromptu dance challenge when he had gone uptown to see a midnight
show at the Lincoln Theater. The trio usually danced for pennies on the sidewalk outside of the
theatre while audiences waited to get inside, but that night the Lincoln’s producer (and Flour-
ney’s brother,) Irving C. Miller, had brought the boys inside and put them on the stage trying
to eliminate his “outside” competition. The boys took turns trying to best each other at the
Charleston in a traditional dance challenge as they beat out rhythms on garbage can lids and
an overturned tub. They were a huge hit with the audience. Flourney Miller recalled, “The
leader of the trio was Russell Brown but all we knew then was his nickname ‘Charleston.’ He
had another colored boy with him and an Italian kid named Champ. Champ wore boots and
did a little Camel Walk which the audience loved.”24 Miller convinced the boys to meet him at
a rehearsal of Runnin’ Wild the next day. “I had them dance for the cast,” Miller remembered,
“asked Jimmy [James P.] Johnson to add some music to the beat, and convinced our choreog-
rapher, Lida [Elida] Webb,25 that it would make a fine number for the chorus.”26 Tap dancer
Willie Covan and his dancing partner Leonard Ruffin were there that afternoon and eventually
helped augment the routine. Covan said,” The kids only had that first little step and a sort of
Camel Walk, so we added an Airplane and a slide.”27
A different account is found in Charleston champion Bee Jackson’s article in Collier Mag-
azine entitled “Hey! Hey! Charleston.” Jackson states,
The Negro girls and boys of Harlem had been dancing it on the streets of the uptown Negro sec-
tion of New York for weeks when Miss [Elida] Webb saw Mary Scurdy, her ten-year-old niece,
“stepping it” in her home. She had the child teach it to her. Then she took sixteen chorus girls
and three chorus boys, showed them the fundamental steps, worked out the routine of it, and put
it into Runnin’ Wild.28

Despite Flourney Miller’s enthusiasm about the new Charleston number, the producer of
Runnin’ Wild, George White, did not like the new routine. Miller recalled that White “brought
his friends around to show them — in front of us— that the Charleston was nothing, and he
tried everything but cutting the dance, which would have made us quit.”29
White’s low opinion of the number may have seemed justified judging by the audience’s
unenthusiastic response at the show’s out of town tryout in Washington D.C. but, when Run-
nin’ Wild officially opened in New York a few nights later, the crowd went wild for the Charleston.
15—Development and Dispersion of the Charleston 145

The show became a huge hit and the Charleston the newest sensation. After playing Broadway,
the show toured the United States. By 1925, two years after Runnin’ Wild debuted, the Charleston
was an international dance craze.

Other Contributors
Ned Wayburn, choreographer of the Ziegfeld Follies, often claimed credit for creating the
Charleston and introducing it to the American public.30 In an article published in The Oakland
Tribune on April 7, 1926, Wayburn relates how he was traveling in the South and saw “a singu-
lar movement based on an off-beat which the negro pickaninnies were executing in their jubilees
along the wharves and levees.” He states that although “there was nothing definite in it as far
as constituting a distinct dance, yet it did evince the ‘something new — something different’
which was in the air ... not merely peculiar to the black race, but as much related to the spiri-
tual tone of the post-war period.”31
According to Wayburn, he returned to New York in early August 1923, and arranged a
meeting with the staff of his dance studio suggesting that a new dance be constructed out of the
“inspiration” he had seen during his travels down South. Shortly after this meeting, Wayburn
was hired by a Broadway producer to teach private lessons to a young African American boy
for use in a stage routine. The boy began to demonstrate steps he already knew for the chore-
ographer, and when the off-beat movement appeared, Wayburn asked the lad if the step had a
name. Wayburn recounts, “I discovered that neither he nor anyone else had ever recognized it
as anything of value in dancing. It was merely one of those steps which negroes did as a finish
to their various types of jigging and merry-making.”32
Wayburn claims that two weeks after this incident he and his staff created the Charleston
by formulating a series of twenty distinct steps based on this off-beat movement. Planning to
include the newly created dance in the newest edition of the Follies that he was mounting at the
Amsterdam Theatre on 42nd Street, Wayburn decided to put the Charleston in the first act
finale in a number called “Shake Your Feet.”33
When popular Follies dancing star Ann Pennington balked at doing the unusual dance, Way-
burn drafted a young dancer out of the chorus by the name of Bee Jackson.34 Florence Ziegfeld,
who did not like the wild dance when initially shown it in rehearsals, reluctantly agreed to have
the number included in the opening night of the Ziegfeld Follies of 192335 on October 20, 1923,
but then ordered it cut the next day.
In the article Wayburn states emphatically,
Although many have reason to claim origination, development, and titling of the Charleston, I
believe I am the one who has documentary evidence to substantiate his claims. It is not egotisti-
cal credit that I have sought for establishing the Charleston to the extent that the American Geo-
graphic Society at Washington, D. C., is considering its adoption as the American national dance,
but a credit that is due anyone who has successfully assisted in the interpretation of an emotional
era in the life of a great nation.36

Producer George White37 is also sometimes listed as the first to bring the Charleston to the
stage. As the producer of Runnin’ Wild, White was certainly involved in some way with pre-
senting the dance in the show that helped make it an international hit, although as stated ear-
lier, the producer disliked the dance and initially fought to have it removed from the production.
As the Charleston became a huge hit though, White sought to claim credit for bringing the dance
to the public’s notice and claimed that he had done so in one of the early editions of his revue
The George White Scandals.
Many sources list Frances Williams,38 a blonde singing and dancing star who appeared in
146 Part IV. The Charleston

three editions of the Scandals, as the performer most associated with presenting the Charleston
under White’s auspices. Williams, sometimes called “The Syncopated Songstress,” was known
as “one of the leading exponents of jazz crooning and fast time eccentric and jazz dancing.”39
She first appeared in The George White Scandals in 1926.40 A review of the show in the June 28,
1926 issue of Time Magazine mentions “...Frances Williams, whose Charleston is notable.”41
The show also featured tap dancer Tom Patricola, who was well-known for his Charleston abil-
ities, and singer/dancer Ann Pennington, who was credited with introducing the Black Bottom
in this particular show. Since there is much documentation of the Charleston having been pre-
sented on the legitimate stage before 1926, Williams could not have been the first to introduce
the dance in this production; however, she did become intimately associated with the dance in
the public’s eye. In clippings from papers of the era she is referred to as a “Charleston pio-
neer,”42 and “the blonde song and dance lady, who made the Charleston famous.”43
George White did present the Charleston in the 1925 edition of his Scandals before Frances
Williams joined the revue in 1926. “Recognizing the dance’s drawing power, The George White
Scandals of 1925 staged a mammoth theatrical representation of the Charleston put on by Tom
Patricola44 and five dozen women.”45 The song Patricola danced to had the following lyric that
described the Charleston as,
[A] new tune, funny blue tune with a peculiar snap!
You may not be able to buck or wing
Fox-trot, two-step, or even sing,
If you ain’t got religion in your feet,
You can do this prance and do it neat.46

In theatre gossip columns from that same year, there were suggestions that George White him-
self might do the dance in the show. One such article states, “...on June 23 George White and
his “Scandals” will frolic at the Apollo.... There is a persistent rumor, too, that George himself,
will appear in the show, doing a Charleston, with taps.”47
Frances Williams herself danced the Charleston on Broadway in 1925, but not in a George
White show. She did the dance when she appeared with the Marx Brothers in The Cocoanuts,
which ran at the Lyric Theatre from December, 1925 through November, 1926. A review by
Alexander Wolcott in The Stage stated,
Up to then the high moments had been pretty much the goings on of Groucho and Harpo, plus
the singing and dancing of a startling girl named Frances Williams, who shuddered a devastating
Charleston and vanished from sight, her head tossing like a chrysanthemum, all gold and agita-

The Cocoanuts included a song by Irving Berlin entitled, “Everyone In The World Is Doing The
Charleston,” which had been added to the “New Summer Edition” of the show.
Producer Lew Leslie, who presented many important black artists nationally and interna-
tionally, in such shows as The Blackbirds, Dixie to Broadway, and several revues at the Cotton
Club, also claimed to have introduced the Charleston. In the program note for the Charleston
Ball in London in 1926, Leslie wrote,
It happened in my Plantation Revue six years ago when I hired a bow-legged colored boy from
Charleston, South Carolina. I found similar steps in the routine and developed a dance from
these.... The song “Charleston” was introduced after the dance was seen at my Plantation and its
rhythm taken from a specially arranged number written for me.49

Black composer Will Marion Cook, in a letter to the editor dated December 19, 1926, sug-
gested that when the New York Times, in an article in the Sunday edition earlier that week, cred-
ited producer George White and others with the creation of the Charleston and the Black Bottom,
it was doing an injustice to African Americans who really originated the dances. In the letter,
15—Development and Dispersion of the Charleston 147

Cook states that he personally knew of the Charleston being danced in the islands off the coast
of Charleston, South Carolina for at least the past forty years, which would mean that the
Charleston was being done by Blacks in the area in the 1880’s. He said the dance migrated to
New York around 1921 and was done by children in Harlem on the street corners as they danced
for pennies. Cook says, that such dances are African in origin and that “...the American negro,
in search of outlet for emotional expression, recreates and broadens these dances. Either in their
crude state, or revised form, in St. Louis, Chicago, or New York the dance is discovered (?) and
sold to the public as an original creation” (question mark is Cook’s).50
Cook points out that the Charleston was first done on stage in a production called How
Come?, and was performed by an African American man named Leonard Harper. He adds that
the first music with a Charleston rhythm to appear on the scene was a tune that came out around
1922 called the “Charleston Strut” written by Tommy Morris. This was followed by James P.
Johnson’s “Charleston” in Runnin’ Wild.
Cook states, “It is doubtful if Mr. White even saw a ‘Charleston’ until he attended the final
rehearsal of ‘Runnin’ Wild.’” He continues, “Similarly, for many years, the ‘Black Bottom’ has
been evolving in the South. Irvin Miller first produced the dance about three years ago in New
York at the Lafayette Theatre. Two years ago Louis Douglass, famous in Europe, thrilled all Paris
as he and Josephine Baker ‘Black-Bottomed’ at the Champs-Elysée Theatre.” Cook closes,
“Messrs. White et al. are great men and great producers. Why, with their immense flocks of
dramatic and musical sheep, should they wish to reach out and grab our little ewe lamb of orig-
There is little doubt that the Charleston was first presented to the general public at large
by African American performers in Broadway shows such as Liza, How Come?, and Runnin’ Wild,
or in revues and acts performed in clubs and cabarets in New York and other large cities; how-
ever, other performers and presenters of theatrical events did contribute to the development
and popularity of the dance. In an undated essay from the period, Harlem Renaissance writer
Wallace Thurmond summed it up:
Most Negro dances originate in the cane brakes and cotton field settlements. They are introduced
into the north by black migrationists and find their way into the theatrical world after they have
been seen in some gin dive or cabaret. It is thus indeed hard to give credit where credit is due.
Any number of people claim the honor of having originated this or that dance. All may have
some ground on which to base their claim, for it is very possible that each one, having seen the
raw material, has refined it for stage purposes.52

Cabarets, Nightclubs and Speakeasies

The Charleston, which first captured the public’s notice with the advent of Broadway’s all-
black musicals, grew in popularity when it became a staple of top entertainers in cabarets, night-
clubs, and speakeasies. In New York, Texas Guinan’s53 speakeasy, the El Fey Club, featured a young
Charleston dancer whose trademark fast-paced moves earned him top billing as “The Fastest
Dancer in the World.” The young dancer was George Raft, who later gained fame as the stone-
faced gangster in Hollywood films. Fred Astaire, a popular Broadway star at the time, saw Raft
perform at the El Fey and said, “George did the fastest, and most exciting, Charleston I ever
saw. I thought he was an extraordinary dancer.... ”54 In 1925, Raft appeared in the Broadway
show The City Chap at the Liberty Theatre on 42nd Street, performing his now-famous quick
paced Charleston, as well as a new dance called the Black Bottom. He also did his Charleston
in the Broadway show Gay Paree, performing the dance to the song “Sweet Georgia Brown,”
which was written for the show. One night Raft’s lightning-fast dancing was even more speedy
148 Part IV. The Charleston

than usual, and he kept running in circles and looking up at the fly space while he danced. He
admitted later that he had had an affair with one of his co-stars Winnie Lightner and when her
husband, the assistant stage manager, found out, he feared the irate man might drop a sand-
bag on him while he was dancing.55
Raft had spent part of his early dancing career working in “tea-rooms” as a gigolo, danc-
ing for two dollars a day plus tips. He was paid to dance with lonely female patrons although
the introductions often later led to sexual rendezvous. The work was physically demanding and
sometimes dangerous. One jealous woman stabbed Raft with a hatpin when she saw him danc-
ing with another client. He recovered quickly but was informed by the doctor that if the pin
had been a few inches to the right, it would have pierced his heart and killed him. During his
time as a gigolo, Raft shared an apartment with fellow gigolo Rudolph Valentino. When
Valentino took the world by storm as a silent movie idol, Raft also began to gain national notice
for his work in vaudeville and in clubs. One newspaper commented, “It is interesting to note
that Raft and Valentino began their dancing life together at Rector’s in the heyday of that smart
restaurant. Valentino arose to fame on the tango and it looks like Raft is following with the
Bricktop57 was a singer and dancer who gained fame performing in nightclubs in the 1920’s
and was one of the first to introduce the Charleston to Europe. Her given name was Ada Beat-
rice Queen Victoria Louise Virginia Smith, and although her parents were African American,
she was born with white skin and red hair. After performing in vaudeville, she ended up in New
York City where she met Barron Wilkins, owner of the posh nightspot Barron’s Exclusive Club.
Wilkins hired the young singer/dancer and gave her the nickname Bricktop after seeing her
flaming red hair. At the club, Bricktop got a chance to perform for such celebrities as Al Jol-
son, John Barrymore, “Legs” Diamond, and a yet to be discovered chorus girl by the name of
Lucille LeSeur, later known as Joan Crawford.58
Bricktop eventually left Barron’s and, while she was performing at another nightclub, Con-
nie’s Inn, she was asked to sail to France to perform at a small club called Le Grand Duc, which
eventually became the gathering place of writers and artists such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo
Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, and T. S. Eliot, who included Bricktop in one of his poems. After
hearing her sing early one morning at the club, she also won the admiration and enduring
friendship of Cole Porter, who later wrote the song “Miss Otis Regrets” for her. One evening,
Porter asked Bricktop if she could dance the Charleston, which had not yet been introduced to
Europe. After her performance of the dance, Porter told her that she had “talking feet and legs.”
The next evening Porter returned with his wife Linda, society maven and hostess Elsa Maxwell,
and a few other friends to view the dance. All were wowed by Bricktop’s dancing. Porter came
up with the plan of giving Charleston cocktail parties two or three times a week at his house at
13 Rue Monsieur. He proposed that Bricktop teach his guests the Charleston. The first evening,
Bricktop taught the dance to the Aga Khan, and about fifty other individuals from the inter-
national set. She later gave private Charleston instruction to high society individuals, charging
ten dollars a lesson. Her clientele included the millionairess Dolly O’Brien (later linked roman-
tically with Clark Gable), the Rothschilds, Daisy Fellowes, heir to the Singer Sewing machine
fortune, interior designer, hostess, actress, and inventor of the Pink Lady cocktail, Elsie de Wolfe
(Lady Mendl), Consuelo Vanderbilt, and even one of the prima ballerinas from the Paris Opera.
She continued to demonstrate the Charleston at the top parties around Paris. In 1925, Brick-
top met another African American whose name would become linked with the Charleston —
Josephine Baker.59
Baker had come to Paris on the request of Mrs. Caroline Dudley Reagan, a producer whose
husband was in the foreign service.60 Reagan had the idea of bringing a black revue to Paris
after seeing a rehearsal for a show at the Douglas Theatre in Washington, D. C. She recalled,
15—Development and Dispersion of the Charleston 149

Eight black girls in black tights, one more superb than the next, dancing, dancing, dancing. It
was the Charleston.... I was overwhelmed, drawn by the invisible magnet, to produce a company,
to show such artists, to amaze, flabbergast, dumbfound Paris ... the elite, the masses, the artists
from Picasso to the hippie painters of the streets ... and there is where the seed for this Revue
Nègre sprouted. The germ possessed me and began to grow.61

Baker dazzled Parisian audiences with her magnetic personality and wild dancing when Le
Revue Negre opened on October 2, 1925, at the Théatre des Champs-Élysées.62 Baker was an
overnight sensation. Even the stagehands were captivated by le Charleston. Baker recalled one
of her first rehearsals in the theatre:
Hello! Charleston. The stagehands watch, the two firemen are amazed. They are not used to
receiving trombone blows in their stomach. At the end, behind the scenery, the younger ones try
to imitate, they would like to dance the Charleston: they shake flannel legs, they kick their feet in
the air like cows, they also kick their neighbors.... The Charleston already possesses them. “Yes,
sir, that’s my baby.”63

Baker’s Charleston was uninhibited — she threw herself into it with utter abandon and the
French audiences loved it. Her dynamic dancing was excitingly savage and effortlessly authen-
tic. The freedom with which she expressed herself while dancing seemed to embody the spirit
of the decade.64 Although Le Revue Negre only ran for three months, the show made Josephine
Baker an instant star.
Josephine Baker is often credited with introducing the Charleston to the people of France,
but in addition to its having been done earlier by Bricktop, another performer had done the
dance in Paris before Baker. Bee Jackson,65 billed as the “Queen of the Charleston,” had per-
formed the dance at the Music-Hall des Champs-Élysées in July 1925 as the opening warm-up
act for Paul Whiteman’s orchestra.
Jackson, who Ned Wayburn claimed introduced the Charleston in a number he choreo-
graphed for The Ziegfeld Follies of 1923,66 was also a favorite in speakeasies and nightclubs. Jack-
son had understudied Follies star Gilda Gray, and when Jackson left show after fifteen months,
Gray recommended Jackson for a dancing spot in her nightclub Rendezvous. Jackson moved from
there to a club called the Question Mark. According to an article she wrote for Collier’s Maga-
zine published on December 10, 1927, Jackson says that shortly after this, she was taken by her
aunt and uncle to a performance of Runnin’ Wild where she saw the Charleston for the first
time. Jackson had the show’s choreographer, Elida Webb, teach her the basic steps of the dance.
Jackson took the steps that Webb had taught her and then created a routine on her own. She
hired an agent who booked her in clubs around New York, such as the Sliver Slipper, Texas
Guinan’s El Fey, and the Club Richman. Jackson’s beauty, personality, and talent quickly brought
her recognition as a Charleston star. Webb said Jackson was “the best of all the ‘Charleston’
dancers, white or colored, and surely if anyone should know, I should.”67
Jackson’s popularity led to bookings on the Keith vaudeville circuit, and audiences around
the United States were introduced to the Charleston. After a small role in the film Lying Wives,
she went back to dancing in clubs, this time in Miami, Palm Beach and Havana. Success in these
venues led to bookings in London and Paris. Some sources say that Jackson was responsible for
introducing the Charleston to Great Britain. Whatever the case, Londoners loved her, giving
her the title the “best dancer in the world,” a sobriquet Jackson accepted “with becoming mod-
esty.”68 Audiences couldn’t get enough of the vibrant young American dancer. While in Lon-
don, Jackson had dual engagements at the Piccadilly Hotel and the Kit Kat Club. “Bee Jackson
is said to be the first white girl to exploit the Charleston, although others give credit to Bee
Palmer69, ‘The Queen of Syncopation.’ Miss Jackson took lessons from Lyda [Elida] Web at the
Club Alabam and is now in London, where the new step is meeting wild approval.”70
When Jackson won the World Championship Charleston Contest held in London, her pop-
150 Part IV. The Charleston

ularity was cemented not only in Great Britain, but also internationally as well. As part of her
prize, Jackson received a contract to perform on the London stage. She accepted the contract,
but at the same time was approached by an Austrian producer who offered a lucrative contract
to perform in Vienna, which she also accepted. In order to meet the terms of both contracts,
Jackson commuted between London and Vienna. She was such a frequent passenger on the air-
lines, European newspapers dubbed her “the flying dancer.”71
Jackson proved to be an equally great hit with Viennese audiences, where she “appeared
on the stage in costumes as abbreviated as they [were] fetching.”72 One critic said, “[Jackson]
dances with that inexplicable mixture of grace, energy and abandon which is the spirit of mod-
ern youth.”73 She became so popular the Viennese public voted her the prettiest woman in Aus-
tria. Some dance historians believe the phrase used to describe the signature step of the
Charleston, “bee’s knees,” was named after Jackson.74

Charleston Contests
When the Charleston came into vogue, promoters scrambled to capitalize on its rising
popularity. Charleston competitions proliferated. Many of these contests offered not only cash
prizes, but also performing contracts, and young actors and dancers interested in having a career
in show business entered their local Charleston competition hoping to find success. Two young
girls from Texas were especially lucky; both Ginger Rogers and Joan Crawford began their careers
by winning Charleston contests.
Ginger Rogers1 was only fourteen years old when she won the Texas State Charleston Cham-
pionships, organized by popular bandleader, Henry Santrey. Preliminary contests were held in
cities across Texas with winners invited to participate in the finals in Dallas. After beating thirty
other contestants in Fort Worth, Rogers traveled to the State Championships that were held on
November 9, 1925 at the Barker Hotel. The competition was fierce. The elimination rounds left
only two remaining dancers, Rogers and a local boy from Dallas. Each danced to break the tie,
but the voting by audience applause ended in a draw again, so both youngsters had to Charleston
one more time. Ginger Rogers won and was crowned the Texas State Charleston Champion.76
Her prize was an engraved silver medal and a four-week tour in vaudeville on the Texas
Interstate circuit, part of the Orpheum Circuit, also known in show business as the “Death
Trail.” Her pay was $375 a week. Realizing that her daughter needed an act to perform, her
mother, Lela Rogers quickly put one together, hiring two of the contest runners-up, Earl Leach
and Josephine Butler. “Ginger Rogers and The Redheads,” as the act was called, proved to be
so popular, the engagement extended from four to twenty-one weeks. Reviews said that Rogers
had “legs as fast as lightning.”77 The Galveston Daily News reported,
The Charleston act itself as performed by Ginger, Earl Leach, formerly of Texas City, and
Josephine Butler of Houston, is itself as clever and snappy as a dance act has been on the vaude-
ville circuit this year. Ginger herself is a clever little thing who has a distinctly attractive stage
personality, wholly apart from her ability as a dancer. The Leach boy is a whiz, executing extraor-
dinarily difficult steps, and “Red” Butler is a close second.78

The act played in theatres across the country, until “The Redheads,” Leach and Butler,
eventually left Rogers to join another act that paid more money. Rogers continued on as a solo
act eventually joining the Paramount Publix circuit, playing in small musical revues in movie
houses. After finding success on Broadway, she traveled to Hollywood where she gained inter-
national fame dancing with Fred Astaire and starring in many films.
Joan Crawford79 won her first Charleston contest at a Kansas City café. Legend has it that
15—Development and Dispersion of the Charleston 151

her victory was partly due to her shoe’s flying off in the middle of her dance. After winning,
the young dancer moved to Chicago hoping to gain further success in the entertainment field
and vowing in her own words “to be the best dancer in the world.”80
After performing in clubs in Detroit and New York, she moved to Hollywood in 1925 and
had small chorus parts and dancing roles in several pictures. Her break-through came in the
film Sally, Irene and Mary, in which she did a featured Charleston dance. Louise Brooks recalled
seeing Crawford in the picture, “...her legs were beautiful even though she used them to dance
the Charleston like a lady wrestler.”81
In 1928 she had another pivotal role as Diana Medford in Our Dancing Daughters. During
one scene, Crawford ripped off her dress and clad only in her slip, danced a wild Charleston on
top of a table. The movie not only made her a star, but also led audiences to see her as the per-
sonification of the carefree, mad-cap, jazz-loving flapper.82
While a young starlet, Crawford kept up a busy nightlife, frequently entering Charleston
contests at local hot spots such as the Cocoanut Grove Nightclub at the Ambassador Hotel in
downtown Los Angeles. She often competed against fellow Charleston-lover Carole Lombard.83
Within her first two years in Tinsel Town, Crawford reportedly won 84 trophies.
Charleston contests were widespread and varied in size contingent upon the venue and the
purpose for having the event.84 The Governor of New York Alfred E. Smith started an impromptu
Charleston Contest among the city’s street urchins while waiting for a friend at the Abescon
railroad station in Atlantic City. He showed a quarter to one young boy standing by the tacks
and said, “How about a little Charleston there, young fellow?” When the boy obliged and gave
him a dance, they were soon surrounded by other youngsters. After someone pulled out a har-
monica, the youths had a competition, and the Governor finally chose a boy he dubbed “Charley,”
as the winner. After the train arrived, the Governor and his friend boarded a bus to leave the
area, and Smith tossed out a handful of coins to the contestants.85
At the other end of the economic and status spectrum, Prince George of England frequently
participated in Charleston contests. At one in particular, the heir to the British throne and his
dancing partner, Lady Milford Haven, won a contest at the Sporting Casino in Cannes, compet-
ing against dozens of dancers. The Prince and the Marchioness kept their identities secret until
after the judging. When they were awarded first prize, the crowd convinced them to present an
exhibition dance. An account of the time reported, “...this will not help him at Buckingham
palace, for it is recalled here that the King and Queen have frowned upon the eccentricities of
the Charleston and have forbidden it at court functions.”86
June 27, 1926 at the Polo Grounds in New York, a huge Charleston contest was put on by
the United Jewish Campaign’s Theatrical and Sports Field day. Twenty-thousand guests attended
the event, and $75,000 was raised for European Jews. Music was to be provided by Ben Bernie
and other famous orchestra leaders, and stage luminaries such as Al Jolson and Sophie Tucker
performed and officiated at the event. Harry Houdini even performed his straight-jacket escape.
Judges included Jolson and Scandals producer George White, among others. One thousand
dancers were originally signed up to dance in the contest and professional Charleston dancers
were barred from entering the competition. All ages were allowed to participate; children as
young as four joined in the contest. One gentleman, an eighty-year old African American named
“Chocolate,” was said to be “among the more vigorous of the dancers”87 The highlight, accord-
ing to the New York Times, was a contest with 100 dancers that took place on a large piece of
canvas that had been stretched and placed in the middle of a baseball field.
Mary Suchier won the $1,000.00 first prize presented by Al Jolson. In addition to the money,
she was awarded a part in a Broadway show and a role in a Fox Film Company movie. Second
place went to two brothers, George and Al Clayton. Third went to a Broadway actress Helen
152 Part IV. The Charleston

Early twentieth century French postcard portraying the Charleston.

15—Development and Dispersion of the Charleston 153

On December 15, 1926, at the Royal Albert Hall in London, England, British impresario
Sir Charles B. Cochran presented perhaps the most memorable Charleston contest of the
decade — a celebration that lasted for eight hours and gathered together some of the top dancers
in the world. Prizes were awarded for the top Charlestoners in several categories, including Ball-
room Amateur (Ladies and Gentleman), Ballroom Professional (Ladies and Gentleman), Stage
Amateur (Ladies and Gentleman), and Stage Professional (Ladies and Gentleman). There was
also a Troupe Dancing category with entrants such as the famous Tiller girls competing. In the
Men’s Amateur category, the prizes ranged from a “Trip to Paris on Imperial Airways” for the
first place winner to a “Gillette Razor” for fourth.88
There were sixteen judges for the event. They included Fred Astaire, who was performing
in London at the time, producer Lew Leslie, British ballroom dancer Josephine Bradley,89 and
championship dancer and London club owner Santos Casani,90 who had recently created a sen-
sation in the city by dancing a Charleston on top of a moving taxi. Guests for the evening
included the full cast of Leslie’s Blackbirds of 1926 led by the enormously popular Florence Mills91
who performed in the “Grand Finale.” Cochran recalled the event:
It was the unexpected and final entrance from the organ, down the steps, into the arena of Flo-
rence Mills, Johnny Hudgins, and the Blackbirds which sent the house wild with enthusiasm.
Johnny Hudgins was encored and encored until it seemed as if his marvelously unattached limbs
would fall off. One would have thought nobody could follow him. But the thunder increased as
the slim body of Florence Mills went through more amusing contortions than you could imagine
in a nightmare.92

An estimated 5,000 to 10,000 guests attended the event. One newspaper merely said, “All
of London must have been there.”93 Lord Lew Grade,94 who later became one of England’s lead-
ing show business entrepreneurs, participated in the Amateur Men’s Contest. He recalled, “The
atmosphere was electric. I had never seen so many great dancers assembled under one roof and
the tension backstage was almost too much to bear.”95 Grade won his division and was awarded
the title of World Solo Charleston Champion. In addition to the prize money, he was given a
four-week engagement performing at the Piccadilly Hotel at fifty pounds a week.
Charles Cochran, the promoter of the Charleston Ball at the Royal Albert Hall in 1926,
summed up the furor of the Charleston craze, “The Charleston is more than a hobby. It is a dis-
ease rampant throughout the country.”96

Fashion and Music of the Charleston

Reeling from the death, destruction, and devastation of the First World War, society in the
1920’s tried to grapple with the emotional scars from that conflict. The younger generation in
particular was disillusioned with old conventions and customs, and struggled to break free from
the manners and mores of their parents. John F. Carter Jr. expressed his generation’s disenchant-
ment in his article “These Wild Young People, By One of Them,” published in 1920. He wrote,
I would like to observe that the older generation had certainly pretty well ruined this world
before passing it on to us. They give us this Thing, knocked to pieces, leaky, red-hot, threatening
to blow up; and then they are surprised that we don’t accept it with the same attitude of pretty,
decorous enthusiasm with which they received it....1

The war forced a generation of young men into early adulthood. It exposed them to bru-
tality, chaos, and excitement. They developed a “live for today, for tomorrow we may die” atti-
tude. When the Armistice came, they returned home bewildered, and often wounded both
physically and psychologically.
Young women, who had joined the workforce to support the war effort, experienced a new-
found sense of freedom and accomplishment. Those that served as nurses overseas were exposed
to a more continental approach to behavior. These young women challenged the rigid standards
and manners of home after being taken out of the cocoon of familial protection and placed in
largely unchaperoned situations. When the war ended they were expected to return to their pre-
vious status as “obedient little girls.” They had seen the horrors of war, and they returned con-
fused and angry. One young girl wrote, “The war tore away our spiritual foundations and
challenged our faith. We are struggling to regain our equilibrium.”2
Disenchanted youth on both sides of the Atlantic rebelled against Victorian values and
sparked a revolution in manners and morals. Throughout society, focus shifted to a youth-ori-
ented culture. The flapper and the collegiate became the models of the day.3
Perhaps the most enduring iconic image of this tumultuous period in history is the mad-
cap flapper, rouged and ready to Charleston. She was the “new woman”— independent-minded
and rebellious. Typically between the ages of fifteen and nineteen, the flapper was seen as a friv-
olous nonconformist: bobbing her hair, adopting modern fashions, using make-up, smoking
and drinking in public, going to “petting parties,” and dancing to her heart’s content. Flapper
Ellen Welles Page described herself,
If one judges by appearances, I suppose I am a flapper. I am within the age limit. I wear bobbed
hair, the badge of flapperhood. (And, oh, what a comfort it is!), I powder my nose. I wear fringed
skirts and bright-colored sweaters, and scarfs, and waists with Peter Pan collars, and low-heeled
“finale hopper” shoes. I adore to dance. I spend a large amount of time in automobiles. I attend
hops, and proms, and ball-games, and crew races, and other affairs at men’s colleges. But none
the less some of the most thoroughbred super flappers might blush to claim sistership or even
remote relationship with such as I. I don’t use rouge, or lipstick, or pluck my eyebrows. I don’t
smoke (I’ve tried it, and don’t like it), or drink, or tell “peppy stories.” I don’t pet. And, most
unpardonable infringement of all the rules and regulations of flapperdom, I haven’t a line! But
then — there are many degrees of flapper. There is the semi-flapper; the flapper; the super flapper.4

16—Fashion and Music of the Charleston 155

The Flapper’s Dictionary, written in 1922, defined a flapper as the “ultra-modern, young
girl, full of pep and life, beautiful (naturally or artificially), blasé, imitative, and intelligent to
a degree, who is about to bloom into a period of womanhood and believes her sex has been and
will continue to be, emancipated to a level higher than most mortals have been able to attain.”5
There are several theories about the derivation of the word “flapper.” Some sources claim
that the term referred to the flapping of a girl’s arms as she danced. Others suggest the word
was first coined in Britain during World War I and referred to a young girl who wore her galoshes
unbuckled causing the tops to flap when she walked.6 The most likely derivation is from a British
term that meant a young bird, especially a wild duck, just able to fly.7 According to an article
published in the New York Times in February 1922, the word “flapper,” was a British sporting
term, defined as a “young duck.” The term was derived from the practice of young girls toss-
ing their long hair as they strutted down the street, making them resemble preening ducks.
When bobbing the hair became popular, the term continued to stick.8
The flapper was vilified by many and lauded by others. Newspaper editorials frequently
appeared in the early 20’s posing such questions as, “What does the flapper token? Is she a
throwback to some primal cycle? A retrogression to the simian period? Or — Does she repre-
sent the leader — a trail-blazing pioneer heralding still greater freedom for women?”9
Opinions were divided. Progressives saw the flapper as a modern, female savior who could
lead society into the twenty-first century. The establishment saw her as the downfall of society.
“Something should be done to curb her. The ruin of the nation rests in the palm of her flippant
hand. The future of the world swings on the pivot of her half-bare legs,”10 said one critic. Another
warned, “The flapper is an agency drunk with liberty and run amok from license. Something
must be done to curb her. The ruin of a nation rests in the palm of her flapper hand.”11

The Charleston was so popular that even motherhood couldn’t keep flappers off the dance floor. An
antique postcard of an etching by James Montgomery Flagg entitled “Jazz Babies — When the Modern
Flappers Get Families of Their Own.”
156 Part IV. The Charleston

Flapper Fashions
Fashions during this period reflected the modern woman’s desire to express freedom, youth-
fulness, and equality. The most prevalent example of this was a style known as garconne. Taken
from the French word for “boy,” but spelled with the feminine suffix, garconne de-emphasized
the more mature, feminine silhouette of previous years and created a boyish look — broad shoul-
ders, flat chest, and small hips.
Dresses with straight, cylindrical bodices and a dropped waistline came into vogue; the
most popular variation was the Basque dress or Robe de Style with a dropped waistline and full
skirt, as featured in the designs of the French couturière Jeanne Lanvin. The long shapeless shift
hid feminine curves and created an androgynous look.12
Women with fuller busts resorted to either binding their breasts to achieve a flatter look
or using other aids such as the Symington Side Lacer, a reinforced brassiere that had lacing on
each side which could be pulled tight until the breasts were flattened.
In the quest for a more boyish figure, the modern woman may have bound her breasts, but
she discarded another clothing constraint — her corset. The tightly cinched waist that empha-
sized feminine curves in the 1800’s went quickly out of vogue. Those women that still chose to
wear corsets during the day often abandoned them at night when they went out dancing. Dance
halls and speakeasies made accommodations for their female patrons to “park” their corsets at
the cloakroom so their Charleston kicks would be unencumbered. Conservatives were outraged
at the practice. One detractor cried, “Young men like to have the girls remove their corsets....
This makes dancing a thing of passion. Corsetless dancing is nothing but passion.”13
As more and more women abandoned the practice of wearing corsets, the Corset Manu-
facturers Association of America waged a well-organized and well-funded war against the trend.
They campaigned tirelessly in ads and mailings for the properly corseted female. In one publi-
cation sent to retailers, the general manager of the Kalamazoo Corset Company explained why
the sensible woman should always wear a corset:

Fear! Fear of ill health, fear of sagging bodies, fear of lost figure, fear of shiftless appearance in
the nicest of clothing, fear of sallow complexion. Fear sends them to the corsetiere, trembling;
the same corsetiere from whom they fled mockingly a couple of years back, at the beck of a mad
style authority who decreed “zat ze body must be free of ze restrictions, in order zat ze new styles
shall hang so freely.”14

The public and fashion designers largely ignored the industry’s pleas for a tightly bound
waist.15 As views on corseting changed, department store sales of corsets and brassieres in Cleve-
land alone fell by eleven percent between 1924 and 1927. In 1925, one commentator observed,
“The corset is as dead as the dodo’s grandfather; no feeble publicity pipings by the manufac-
turers, or calling it a ‘clasp around’ will enable it, as Jane [the flapper] says, to ‘do a Lazarus.’”16
Other undergarments also changed. Layered petticoats and dark heavy cotton stockings
were replaced with silk or rayon step-ins and flesh-colored stockings. To keep stockings from
falling down while dancing, garter belts were introduced. In hot weather, stockings were often
abandoned completely.
Clothes that offered maximum freedom of movement were de rigeuer. Long, heavy skirts
and tight bodices with full-length sleeves gave way to shorter, lighter garments with short sleeves
and lower cut fronts and backs. In 1928, the Journal of Commerce estimated that over the course
of the past fifteen years, the amount of material required for a woman’s outfit had gone from
about nineteen and a quarter yards of material to a mere seven. The freedom afforded by these
lighter, less constricting garments allowed Charleston dancers to fling their arms and legs unen-
cumbered by the bustles, trains, and heavy petticoats of the days of the waltz.
16—Fashion and Music of the Charleston 157

Perhaps the most obvious change in women’s fashion came in skirt length. A hint of tan-
talizing calf was revealed when handkerchief hemlines and scalloped edges grew in popularity
during the first part of the decade. In 1925, hemlines rose to about fourteen to sixteen inches
off the ground, and in 1926, finally rose above the knee and stayed there until 1928. When asked
his opinion about short skirts, American Ambassador to Britain Colonel George Harvey replied
that they ought to be like “after-dinner speeches— long enough to cover the subject, but short
enough to be interesting.”17 At the end of the decade, skirt length gradually began to drop again
aided by the popularity of uneven and asymmetrical hemlines, and long sheer overskirts.18
One story that illustrates the frequently changing hemlines in the period concerns the court
case of Kutock vs. Kennedy. New York actress Frances Kennedy sued her tailor, Morris Kutock,
when he failed to deliver a gown on time. She had specially ordered the dress with the under-
standing that it would be delivered before she left town to perform in Chicago. When the gown
was not completed the day before her departure, she hurriedly bought another gown elsewhere.
When she returned from her out of town engagement, she refused to pay for Kotock’s dress.
The tailor sued. According to court testimony, Miss Kennedy stated that she should not have
to accept the gown because “dresses go out of style about every three weeks.” To illustrate her
point, she had her husband and her lawyer, display three of her dresses as evidence for the judge
and jury, showing that the most recent dress was longer than the others. Her expert witnesses,
a fashion model and a costume designer, confirmed her findings. The jury, which was half
female, all between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two, ruled in her favor after deliberating
for only three or four minutes. After the verdict was read, “Kennedy reportedly hugged and
kissed the jurors, invited them to her show and distributed autographed pictures of herself.”19
Moral arbiters of the day were appalled by modern fashions, calling them vulgar, immoral,
and injurious to a woman’s character and health. One detractor cried, “The low-cut gowns, the
rolled hose and short skirts are born of the Devil and his angels, and are carrying the present
and future generations to chaos and destruction.”20
In Philadelphia, in an effort to combat the modern fashions, a Dress Reform Committee
drew up designs for a dress that was based on the suggestions of over a thousand clergymen in
fifteen different denominations. The sleeves of the loose-fitting garment reached below the
elbows, and its hem was no more than seven and a half inches off the floor. It was called the
“moral gown.”
Attacking flapper fashions from all angles, some opponents cautioned that the scanty nature
of the dresses were dangerous to a woman’s health. London surgeon Sir James Cantlie claimed
that “[I]nsufficient clothing about the necks and throats of women is causing an increase in
goiter.” He warned that the new fashions threatened not only younger women, but also older
ones who were tempted to “follow the evil example.”21 Dr. Florence Sherman warned women
that wearing skimpier under-clothing provided less protection against diseases such as tuber-
Amidst the uproar over improper dress, politicians tried to legislate the new fashions. In
1921, a bill was introduced in Utah mandating fines and imprisonment for women who wore
“skirts higher than three inches above the ankle.”22 Another was put before Virginia lawmak-
ers forbidding blouses or gowns that exposed more than three inches of throat. In Ohio, the
legislature was even stricter, limiting décolletage to two inches. The same Ohio bill prohibited
any “female over fourteen years of age” from wearing “a skirt which does not reach to that part
of the foot known as the instep.”23
Although most outrage was directed toward changes in women’s fashions, there were those
who felt that trends in male clothing were also going astray. More casual and sporty than in
previous decades, men’s fashion in the 1920’s reflected the focus on youth. Around 1925, baggy
pants were popularized by undergraduates at Oxford University.24 Called Oxford Bags, the pants
158 Part IV. The Charleston

sometimes measured as much as forty inches around the ankle. These bell-bottoms quickly
became the uniform of the modern young man and drew the ire of many.25
During World War I, American soldiers were issued front-buttoning underwear; after the
war long-sleeved, long-legged underwear was abandoned for briefer garments, sometimes made
of rayon or even silk. Men explored their more feminine side, even matching the color of their
shirts to their boxers. Many viewed the changes in underwear as the emasculation of a whole

In the 1920’s, as skirts shortened, shoes became more visible, and fashionable footwear
became an important aspect of a woman’s total “look.” Advice columnist Emily Burbank sug-
gested that a well-dressed modern woman should “keep in mind that your footwear is like the
caption to a picture; it tells the beholder what is the meaning of the costume, what occasion the
woman who planned it intended to grace. If the shoes are not the key to the costume then it
means that they are wrong.”26 The stylish footwear for the flapper hoping to augment the gar-
conne look was a narrow-toed, high-heeled shoe. The Charleston also influenced footwear.
Comfortable dancing required a shoe with closed toes that could be securely fastened.
Many argued against the trend in women’s shoes. “Men do not walk on pegs— why should
women?”27 According to Dr. Sara brown, a YWCA staff member,
The wearing of tight shoes for appearance sake is harmful in many ways. Not only the physical
but, the mental and spiritual side of the individual suffers. One cannot thoroughly enjoy a ser-
mon at church on Sunday in tight shoes. Children are unable to pay proper respect to their eld-
ers by getting up and giving them their seat when their feet are cramped....28

Dr. Brown firmly urged women to “never wear ill-fitting shoes. They inhibit gentleness.”29
Dr. Florence A. Sherman warned that high heels not only caused all kinds of foot ailments, but
also altered a woman’s center of gravity. Besides poor posture, Sherman explained, to compen-
sate for the destabilizing effects of high heels, the body could also develop “a train of misplace-
ments and congestions such as prolapus of the stomach and bowels, constipation, indigestion,
misplaced uterus, menstrual pain. We might add to this list accidents, decreased working capac-
ity, deranged nerves, lack of exercise ... nor should we forget that the story of bad feet writes
itself in wrinkles and a look of old age.”30 One critic of high-heeled shoes summed it up, “...prac-
tically every ill of womankind comes from the wearing of high heels.”31

Hair Styles
The desire to look boyish led women of the 1920’s to adopt another drastically innovative
fashion trend — short hair. Throughout the Victorian era and before that, a woman’s hair was
viewed as her crowning glory. In the Roaring Twenties women chopped off their hair, and as
the decade progressed, the most popular coiffures grew increasingly shorter —first the bob, then
the shingle, and in 1926–7 the most severe, the Eton crop, a style considered truly shocking by
more conservative people.32
Bobbed hair initially caught the public’s notice when famed ballroom dancer Irene Castle
cut her hair short in 1915.33 The Castle Bob, as it was called, sparked a revolution in hairstyles
that eventually took fire in the 1920’s. Also called a 3/4 cut, the bob was a simplistic page-boy
style with the hair blunt-cut straight around the head at the level of the ear lobes. The shear-
16—Fashion and Music of the Charleston 159

ing off of one’s locks in a 3/4 bob quickly became the symbol of the modern woman. When the
Saturday Evening Post published a story by F. Scott Fitzgerald on May 1, 1921, called “Bernice
Bobs Her Hair,” the young heroine in the story, who had been transformed into a modern vamp,
quickly became a role model for young women across the US and led many into their local bar-
bershop to get their hair cut.34 As the new hairstyle appeared on the Silver Screen on such stars
as Louise Brooks and Clara Bow, the bob’s popularity quickly spread, reaching its greatest pop-
ularity around 1923.
By 1924, the bob began to be replaced with a variation called the shingle, razor cut on the
back. Shaped close to the head, this hairstyle was modified with Marcel waves or finger curls.
Bruce Bliven, in his article “Flapper Jane,” published in the New Republic in 1925, commented
on the new flapper hairstyles. He wrote,
Jane’s haircut is also abbreviated. She wears of course the very newest thing in bobs, even closer
than last year’s shingle. It leaves her just about no hair at all in the back, and 20 percent more
than that in the front — about as much as is being worn this season by a cellist (male); less than a
pianist; and much, much less than a violinist. Because of this new style, one can confirm a rumor
heard last year: Jane has ears.35
Around 1927, hair was cut even closer to the head and slicked back with Brilliantine in a
style called the Eton Crop. The severe hairdo sometimes featured spit curls by the ears or was
plastered down across the forehead, as worn by Josephine Baker.
As bobbed hair became the universal norm for women in the 1920’s, the cloche hat that fit
tightly to the head was adopted as the most popular form of millinery.

In addition to changes in hair length, there were dramatic changes in the use of cosmetics
during the Roaring Twenties. Makeup, previously considered improper for anyone but actresses
and loose women to wear in public, became a necessary part of the flapper look. The modern
woman used excessive powder to make her skin look pale, plucked her eyebrows to pencil thin
dimensions, wore heavy blue and green eye shadow, and donned thick false eyelashes to create
a “dragon lady” look. She painted her lips in a narrow cupid’s bow, as if puckering up for a kiss.
Using nail polish and coloring the hair also came into vogue.
As fashion dictated that the modern woman look more and more youthful, beauty shops
sprang up in every town and city, offering facials and beauty treatments to prevent wrinkles.
Cosmetic surgery also became popular; the woman who wanted to recapture her youth could
now do so with a face-lift.
Bruce Bliven described the fashionable flapper:
Beauty is the fashion in 1925. She is frankly, heavily made up, not to imitate nature, but for an
altogether artificial effect — pallor mortis, poisonously scarlet lips, richly ringed eyes— the latter
looking not so much debauched (which is the intention) as diabetic. Her walk duplicates the
swagger supposed by innocent America to go with the female half of a Paris Apache dance.36
Moralists were concerned that wearing heavy makeup in public might damage a woman’s
reputation. Doctors in the 1920’s had other concerns. In 1922, the New York Times ran an arti-
cle entitled “Flapper’s Cosmetics Alarming Physicians.” One doctor was quoted as saying,
The “flapper” of today may have to adopt the Asiatic veil twenty years hence if she does not want
to be described as “frightful, fat and forty.”... We practicing physicians cannot fail to view with
alarm the increasing use of cosmetics by our young girls.... Many a girl has already ruined her
complexion by these things. We tremble to think what many of the members of the growing gen-
eration will look like when they reach 40.37
160 Part IV. The Charleston

In addition to being heavily made-up, the modern woman of the Jazz Age was also certain
to be seen through a cloud of smoke. Women’s acceptance of cigarette smoking in public led
to a boom in tobacco sales in the 1920’s as millions of young women took up the habit in an
effort to be in vogue. Between 1918 and 1928 cigarette sales doubled. As the decade progressed,
advertisements and billboards went from pictures of young ladies demurely asking men to please
blow smoke their way, to portrayals of flappers with cigarettes hanging from their finely-painted
Cigarette companies capitalizing on this trend started advertising campaigns that urged
the modern woman to “reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet.” To the modern movers and shak-
ers of the Roaring Twenties, a woman who smoked was not only liberated, but also desirable.
The most fashionable flappers matched their cigarettes to their outfits. The Wisconsin State
Journal reported that when one modern socialite spent a weekend in the country, she changed
her frock several times, and each time appeared with a different colored cigarette that perfectly
matched her gloves and dress.
As more and more women smoked, another barrier in the separation between the sexes
broke down. The custom of men and women parting company after formal dinners so the gen-
tleman could smoke became a thing of the past.

The Music of the Jazz Age

The world went round before they discovered jazz, but it didn’t go round so fast. Jazz and pep
are just the same, except you can shake pepper. You can’t shake jazz, no matter how hard you
shimmy. Just when they made delirium tremens unconstitutional, jazz came along and gave us
dancing tremens. A guy that’s been up against a few bars of jazz now finds his head whirling in
company with his feet.38

In 1922, F. Scott Fitzgerald dubbed the era of the flapper and the Charleston “The Jazz Age.”
It was a time when the dancing was wild and the music was hot. During this turbulent period
from the end of the World War I to the stock market crash in 1929, the word “jazz” referred not
only to the music, but also to the manners, the mood, and the morals of the day. The New York
Times declared, “Jazz has become a state of mind — the emblem of the insurgent Young Gen-
eration.”39 But it was the music that had people up in arms.
Worried that jazz was exercising undue influence over its listeners and weakening their
moral fiber, many expressed concern that the sound of a wailing saxophone was ruining the
youth of America. The music of jazz came to represent not only the thrill and excitement of the
Roaring Twenties, but also the downfall and danger of fast living.40 On February 1, 1922, the
Brownsville, Herald, in Brownsville, Texas, ran an article simply titled “Jazz.” It stated,
[T]he sound of jazz produces no more effect than a cheap flapper novel would have upon a per-
son intellectually and morally sensitive to the beauties of the “Book of Ecclesiastes.” Jazz music is
an effect, not a cause, and is a result of the demand created by a jazz spirit which crept into other
phases of life long before it invaded music. Jazz grammar, jazz spelling, jazz movies and even jazz
business methods were in evidence years ago, yet jazz in music must bear the burden of abuse
from the reformers of today. Jazz doubtless is all its enemies say of it — it is vulgar, degrading to
young tastes, seductive, perhaps, to weak intellects, and its presence in the theater and dance hall
brings it very close to a great number all the time. But compared to the evil wrought by a jazz
newspaper or magazine, or a jazz preacher, its damage is slight, because young people do not
look to a jazz orchestra for a good example.41

Jazz music differed from ragtime in that it emphasized improvisation over structured com-
position. In addition, the role of the solo performer in jazz took precedence over the composer.
16—Fashion and Music of the Charleston 161

Jazz, like ragtime, incorporated a mixture of European and African musical traditions. Its con-
nection to African origins gave rise to a strong undercurrent of racist reaction, leading many
to label the music as barbaric and primitive, and “designed for naked wriggling savages.”42
Some believed that the syncopated rhythms of jazz stimulated sexual behavior. It was evi-
dent to most that the music of a good jazz band was almost irresistible when it came to danc-
ing. This led detractors to campaign against the provocative music. They warned, “Dance music
is wrong when it creates nasty steps. Then certainly it should be a matter of grave concern to
the country that our dance music should not be wrong.”44
Around the world the merits and dangers of jazz music caused bitter debate. In rural areas,
it was generally rejected and seen as further evidence of the destruction of society. In urban set-
tings, more progressive attitudes allowed jazz to flourish. Its acceptance was aided by prohibi-
tion, which fostered the growth of speakeasies and nightspots where jazz music and the
Charleston came to represent rebellion, change, and the culture of youth. The availability of
other entertainment venues and technological advancements in media also helped spread jazz
in the cities. Educated urbanites tended to more readily accept minorities, allowing black cul-
ture to mingle with white. But even as modernists flocked to nightclubs and cabarets and thrilled
to the syncopations and improvisations of jazz bands, the more conservative set looked upon
jazz with shock and disdain.
Thomas Edison, the inventor of the phonograph, declared that jazz music sounded better
when it was played backwards. Popular composer Jerome Kern denounced it. At his request,
the producers of his new hit musical Sitting Pretty refused to allow “one note of its [the show’s]
music to be heard in cabarets, over the radio, on the phonograph, or most important, from the
instruments of a jazz orchestra.”45 John Phillip Sousa declared, “Jazz lives because of those who
cannot dance, but try to. Jazz enables those who cannot dance to strut around on the ballroom
floor with everybody else. It is a refuge for the flat-footed, the knock-kneed and the awkward.”
Sousa also predicted the demise of jazz. He said, “We have a great many religious people in this
country, and it is a good thing. Some time they are going to try to jazz ‘Jesus, Lover of My Soul,’
or ‘Nearer, My God to Thee,’ and that will be the end of jazz. The people will not stand for it.”46
Irving Berlin, on the other hand, “asserted that out of the present day jazz would grow a
national music and great national musicians.”47 Berlin stated:
Jazz is a contribution of America to the arts. It is recognized the world over as part of the musical
folk lore of the country. It is as thoroughly and typically American as the Monroe Doctrine, the
Fourth of July, or baseball. Further, jazz is going to make the world safe for musical democracy. It
is going to seat the highbrow beside the lowbrow at concerts. There will be endowed chairs for
the dissemination of knowledge of jazz at the foremost conservatories of music. In that bright
future, syncopation will doff its informal attire and don evening clothes, even to the high hat and
the cape.48

The Word “Jazz”

The first documented use of the word “jazz” in the press appeared in the Los Angeles Times
on April 2, 1912. The word did not allude to music, but to baseball. Referring to his new curve
ball, pitcher Ben Henderson of the Portland Beavers remarked, “I call it the Jazz ball because it
wobbles and you simply can’t do anything with it.”49 A year later, the word appeared again in
connection with sports, this time in reference to ball players who had extra energy, spirit, and
vitality. On March 6, 1913, the San Francisco Bulletin ran an article by E. T. “Scoop” Gleeson
who explained the term. He wrote, “What is ‘jazz?’ Why, it’s a little of that ‘old life,’ the ‘gin-
i-ker,’ the ‘pep,’ otherwise known as the enthusiasm.”50 From 1915 until 1918, “jazz” in the sense
162 Part IV. The Charleston

of enthusiasm was commonly used as a slang expression on the West Coast, especially on col-
lege campuses. The President of Berkley, Benjamin Ide Wheeler, used it so often many cred-
ited him with coining the word, although he denied creating it.
“Jazz,” as a reference to a particular type of music, did not appear in common usage until
around 1915 in Chicago,51 although the music itself certainly was played well before that in New
Orleans and other places.52
On July 11 of that year in the Chicago Daily Tribune the following appeared:
Blues Is Jazz and Jazz Is Blues.... The Worm had turned — turned to fox trotting. And the “blues”
had done it. The “jazz” had put pep into the legs that had scrambled too long for the 5:15....
”What are the blues?” he asked gently. “Jazz!” The young woman’s voice rose high to drown the
piano.... The blues are never written into music, but are interpolated by the piano player or other
players. They aren’t new. They are just reborn into popularity. They started in the south half a
century ago and are the interpolations of darkies originally. The trade name for them is “jazz.”53

The use of the word “jazz” as a musical genre continued to grow in popularity around Chicago
and soon spread to other cities in the country. It was not until June 20, 1918, however, that the
word was first seen in print in New Orleans, the city where jazz music got its start. The refer-
ence appeared in the Times-Picayune:
Why [sic — what] is the jass music, and therefore the jass band? Indeed, one might say that Jass
music is the indecent story syncopated and counterpointed. In the matter of jass, New Orleans is
particularly interested, since it has been widely suggested that this musical vice had its birth in
our slums.54

In his book The Latin Quarter, Herbert Asbury states that the first known example of the
word “jazz” in print in New Orleans occurred much earlier, when the manager of the Haymar-
ket dance hall posted a sign listing the billing for a band appearing at his place. According to
Asbury, in 1895 seven boys ranging in age from twelve to fifteen formed a band in New Orleans
and called themselves the “Razzy Dazzy Spasm Band.” About five years later, a second group
advertised an appearance at a local dance hall using the same name. When members of the orig-
inal Spasm band arrived at the venue where the usurpers were scheduled to perform, with rocks
in their pockets ready to battle for the name, the owner quickly painted over the billing to avoid
trouble. He dubbed the second band the “Razzy Dazzy Jazzy Band.” Asbury states that this sign
was the first use of the word “jazz” in print.
There are many explanations of the etymology of the word “jazz.” Dubose Heyward, the
author of Porgy, stated that the word as it related to music might have taken its name from Jasbo
Brown, an “itinerant negro player along the Mississippi and later in Chicago cabarets.”55 Accord-
ing to the New York orchestra leader Vincent Lopez, “jazz” got its name from Charles Wash-
ington, a black drummer who worked in a theatre in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The musician
could not read music but was a wonderful improviser and was great at utilizing syncopated
rhythms. “It was a practice to repeat the chorus of popular numbers and on the repeats ‘Chaz’
was called on to do his most fantastic ticks of rhythm. At the end of the first chorus, therefore,
the leader would call out: ‘Now, Chaz!’ From this small beginning it soon became a widespread
habit to call any form of exaggerated syncopation ‘chaz,’ which was eventually changed to
‘jazz.’”56 Musician Paul Whiteman said that he agreed with John Phillip Sousa who claimed it
came from the word “jazzbo,” an expression used in minstrel shows when the performers impro-
vised or “jazzboed” the tune.
The Historical Dictionary of American Slang says that the word “jazz” is derived from “jasm,”
a term meaning “spirit, energy, vigor.”57 Jasm dated to 1842 and was related to the slang word
“jism” or “gism,” which also referred to semen. The connection to sex was established early and
the word “jazz” was widely used to mean sexual intercourse. Its sexual connotations were so
16—Fashion and Music of the Charleston 163

pervasive, many would not use the word in polite company. Even supporters of the music were
loathe to utter the word. In 1924, The Ogden Standard-Examiner in Ogden, Utah explained,
All friends of jazz agree that it has an unpleasant and unfortunate name. They expect it to lose its
infant appellation and assume a more sober title somewhere along its progress toward establish-
ment as a permanent form of music.58

“Jazz’s” connection to sex is also found in other possible derivations of the word. Some
suggest that the word was a reference to the jasmine perfume worn by prostitutes in the broth-
els of New Orleans, or that it was derived from “jezebel,” a common name for a woman of the
Some etymologists believe that “jazz” could come from the French jaser; to chatter or chat,
or chaser; to chase or hunt. It has also been suggested that the term could be related to Irish
teas, pronounced “chass” and signifying heat.
The Arcade Dictionary of Word Origins states that the word is probably derived from African
origins. The Mandingo, jasi, and the Temne yas, are possible sources. Walter Kinsley reported
in the New York Sun on August 5, 1917, that the word was African. The article stated, “In his
studies of the creole patois and idiom in New Orleans Lafcadio Hearn reported that the word
“jaz,” meaning to speed things up, to make excitement, was common among the blacks of the
South, and had been adopted by the Creoles as a term to be applied to music of a rudimentary
syncopated type.” Kingsley added, “Jaz her up” was used on occasion by plantation slaves, and
that in common usage in Vaudeville “jaz her up” or “put in jaz” meant to accelerate or add low
comedy, while “Jazbo” meant “hokum.”59
One unlikely explanation, that appeared in newspapers in the fall of 1919, said that the
word was merely onomatopoeic, sounding like the bubbling of the effervescent waters at Boyes
Hot Springs, in Sonoma County, California.

Reaction to Jazz
As with the Charleston, many looked upon jazz as a moral and medical threat. In 1922,
one California newspaper announced, “Jazz is a musical rash that has broken out upon the
youth of the land.”60 Reformer Jane Addams, the founder of Hull House, stated that jazz was
“the greatest menace to child morality,” adding, “...[jazz] music must be controlled. Until it is,
a great many young boys and girls will dance to their moral doom.”61 In her magazine article
“From the Ballroom to Hell,” Mrs. E. M. Whitmore claimed that seventy percent of New York
prostitutes “had been spoiled by jazz music.”62
In Chicago, Judge Arnold Heap ruled that jazz music was immoral and fined a local café
performer for dancing to it. A fellow judge in Chicago took a different tack. He stated that it
was “impossible for music to be immoral.” The twist came when he handed down his decision.
He ruled that jazz [was] not music and therefore may be immoral.”63
Cities across America drew up ordinances banning the playing of jazz in public places.
These bans were not limited to the United States. In Tokyo, police declared that jazz was immoral
and worked to bar American music and the dancing that went with it. One paper reported, “It’s
a wonder the Mikado does not send a flock of missionaries to the New York dance halls to con-
vert wild America.”64
In August of 1921, the Ladies Home Journal ran an article by Anne Shaw Faulkner entitled
“Does Jazz Put Sin in Syncopation?” In it, Faulker warned of the moral dangers of jazz:
We have all been taught to believe that “music soothes the savage breast,” but we have never
stopped to consider that an entirely different type of music might invoke savage instincts. We
164 Part IV. The Charleston

have been content to accept all kinds of music, and to admit music in all its phases into our
homes, simply because it was music.... Therefore, it is somewhat of a rude awakening for many of
these parents to find that America is facing a most serious situation regarding its popular music.
Welfare workers tell us that never in the history of our land have there been such immoral condi-
tions among our young people, and in the surveys made by many organizations regarding these
conditions, the blame is laid on jazz music and its evil influence on the young people of to-day.65
The saxophone —“the symbol of jazz”— was especially condemned. The New York Times
quoted a Washington police sergeant who stated, “Any music played on the saxophone is
immoral.” He claimed that saxophones were “murdering peace.” The outraged policeman con-
cluded, “One would think the serpent wooed Eve with a saxophone.”66
Musicians were divided. Many welcomed the exciting, innovative sounds of jazz. Others
called it noise. Paul Whiteman achieved huge success as a proponent of jazz. Although many
criticized the white bandleader, nicknamed the “King of Jazz,” for sanitizing the art form, his
popular recordings made millions of listeners fans of jazz. The music director of the Red Cross,
on the other hand, urged members of the Texas Federation of Music Clubs not only to shun
jazz themselves, but also to fight actively against it, calling the insidious music “poison.”67
Following protests by its own musicians, France ordered American jazz players to be
expelled from the country. Spanish and German musicians also denounced the new music, call-
ing for it to be censored and demanding that any Americans who dared to play jazz be expelled.68
Hungarian Gypsies also placed a ban on it, calling American jazz “immoral, inartistic, unpa-
triotic, and godless.”69
Everyone had an opinion. The Oakland Tribune reported that even the National Associa-
tion of Piano Tuners weighed in on the subject. The Association cited a specific reason for
adopting resolutions condemning jazz:
One would think jazz would be welcome noise to the piano tuner. What is there which may
wreck the harmony, crack keys and jam the sharps all up with the flats any quicker than a jazz
artist in full motion? The more jazz the more piano tuning, is an easy conclusion, but it does not
work out that way. According to the piano tuners, and they should know, anyone who plays jazz
does not care whether his piano is tuned or not.70

Opposition to Jazz for Medical Reasons

Some resisted jazz because they believed it ruined one’s health. Anne Faulkner offered
proof in her article “Does Jazz Put Sin in Syncopation?” She wrote,
A number of scientific men who have been working on experiments in musico-therapy with the
insane, declare that while regular rhythms and simple tones produce a quieting effect on the
brain of even a violent patient, the effect of jazz on the normal brain produces an atrophied con-
dition on the brain cells of conception, until very frequently those under the demoralizing
influence of the persistent use of syncopation, combined with inharmonic partial tones, are actu-
ally incapable of distinguishing between good and evil, right and wrong.71
One particular case that grabbed the country’s attention was the trial of 16-year-old Dorothy
Ellingson, the “jazz maniac,”72 who murdered her mother in San Francisco when Mrs. Elling-
son tried to prevent her daughter from going to a “jazz party.”73 Local papers labeled the crime
as the “latest product of jazzmania,” and asked the question, “What Price Jazz?”74 After her arrest,
Miss Ellingson was heard to remark, “Jazz is all right but it drags you down.”75
Mr. Duque, a man some credit with inventing the Maxixe, claimed, “Not one tempera-
ment in a thousand can stand an afternoon of jazz and remain sane. Jazz music produces a
fevered disorder of the brain, leading to bad temper, slackness, lassitude and frequently bad
16—Fashion and Music of the Charleston 165

Mr. Duque added, “[In Europe], husbands don’t take their wives to dance, because they
find it inevitably means a raggedy temper afterwards.... I look upon jazz as one of the direct
causes of the increasing tendency toward divorce and ruined marital happiness. No man or
woman is normal after he has danced to the music of a jazz orchestra for more than half an
hour.”77 In addition to wrecking marriages, jazz also was credited with ruining household
domesticity. Duque explained, “I have a friend who allowed his servants to dance during the
slack afternoon hours to the music of a graphophone giving jazz airs. He had to stop it because
the dinner was invariably badly cooked afterward and the whole house was disarranged.”78
In Cincinnati, Ohio, the Salvation Army sued to prevent the building of a theatre adjacent
to a maternity hospital. The group won a court injunction to stop construction by arguing that
the new theatre might feature jazz music that “would have an unfavorable effect upon expec-
tant mothers and influence the character of their babies.” The suit stated, “We recognize that
we are living in a jazz age, but we object to imperiling the happiness of future generations by
inculcating in them before they are even born, the madness that now rules the country.”79
In his article “The Jazz Path of Degradation,” published in the Ladies’ Home Journal in Jan-
uary 1922, John R. McMahon warned,
It is likely the birth rate will be affected. The next generation will show certain physical conse-
quences. There will be more weaklings and fewer stalwarts. The crop of human weeds will
increase. Instead of real men and women, we may reasonably expect an augmented stock of
lounge lizards and second-quality “vamps.”80

Orchestra leader Paul Whiteman, on the other hand, praised the health-giving benefits of
listening to jazz. He said, “Jazz is responsible for the health of young persons today. The more
jazz, the more perfect race. And a generation of jazz will produce a race of perfectly developed
men and women. Jazz is particularly good for the development of the perfect back.”81

Reaction to the Charleston

The Charleston craze infected all levels of society from shop girl to debutante, from fac-
tory worker to royalty. It seemed like everyone everywhere was doing the Charleston. In 1925,
the New York Times reported, “Dancers young and not so young enjoy the barbarous rhythm
of its syncopation: they like the tricky steps and the recklessness that is somehow injected into
them. It has life and vitality. You hear about it everywhere.”1 Clubs, speakeasies, and cabarets
always had at least one Charleston specialty act. It seemed that on every corner in every major
city, street urchins danced the Charleston for pennies. Vogue magazine reported that in Man-
hattan “’the westbound streets are clogged with smart motors bearing ladies to the Broadway
dance emporiums’ to learn the dance.”2
Small’s Paradise on 7th Avenue in New York City not only had Charleston dancing chorus
girls, but also waiters who Charlestoned their way from table to table with bootleg liquor and
trays of Chinese food. The dance was so popular even some non-dancing jobs required that appli-
cants be well-versed in dancing the Charleston — just in case. St. Louis boasted of its own
Charleston-dancing traffic cop. In Newcastle, England, hundreds of teens blocked traffic every
Sunday evening as they filled the streets to dance the Charleston. The Charleston was the dance
of the day.

Moral Objections
Despite the dance’s far-reaching popularity, many viewed the Charleston with distaste —
others with downright disgust. Articles, editorials, sermons, and speeches labeled the dance as
vulgar, immoral, degenerate, and ugly. The Rev. E. W Rogers, vicar of St. Aidan’s church in
Bristol, England said, “Any lover of the beautiful will die rather than be associated with the
Charleston. It is neurotic! It is rotten! It stinks! Phew, open the windows.”3 Dr. Francis E. Clark,
the founder and president of the Christian Endeavor Society, stated that such indecent displays
on the dance floor were “an offense against womanly purity, the very fountainhead of our fam-
ily and civil life.”4 In 1922 the Morality League sought an anti-dance ordinance to combat the
“cherry pickers, tack-hammers, cheek-pressers, hip-swingers, and lemon-rollers of the fierce
jazz dance invaders.”5 The president of the League urged the youth of America to “dedicate them-
selves to bringing about the death of jazz.”6 He traveled around the country campaigning for
teenagers to sign his no-dancing pledge. Elected officials,7 clergymen, and parents tried to shield
the innocent children of the world from the infectious jazz that was spreading like wildfire.8
Anti-Charleston diatribes appeared frequently in newspaper editorials, magazine articles,
and sermons, denouncing the dance’s erotic nature. The Catholic Telegraph of Cincinnati called
the dance nothing more than a “syncopated embrace,” admonishing, “The music is sensuous,
the embracing of partners— the female only half dressed — is absolutely indecent; and the
motions— they are such as may not be described, with any respect for propriety, in a family

17—Reaction to the Charleston 167

Top and bottom: Vivian Marinelli giving Charleston lessons to members of the Palace Club basketball
team of Washington, D.C. Photographs by National Photo Company entitled “The Charleston as an
Aid to the Game” (courtesy of the Library of Congress).
168 Part IV. The Charleston

New York stage actress Laurette Taylor agreed. She stated emphatically,
I’m sick of seeing young people dance around as though they couldn’t help it ... I really do think
this jazz is a menace to the country. From the point of view of health, it is poisonous, nerve-rack-
ing, shattering, the din and clatter, the tomtom music — no rhythm, no melody — just sex and
bedlam! And the young men! My word!10
The Archbishop of Eastern Poland even went so far as to declare, “Dancing the Charleston
is an unpardonable sin!” He added that he would “refuse absolution to women who confess
indulging in this dance.”11
Although most diatribes against the Charleston sprang from the dance’s suggestive nature,
such as the open and closing of the knees and the uninhibited kicking, shaking and jiggling,
other objections resulted from racist responses to its African origins. Louis Chalif, one of the
most highly respected dance teachers of the period stated that the Charleston was “of heathen
African origin” and therefore should be banned.12
Dance masters meeting in Paris labeled the Charleston “Negroid, immoral, unspeakable
and unworthy.”13 In England, the Daily Mail called the Charleston “a series of contortions with-
out a vestige of grace or charm, reminiscent only of negro orgies.”14 In the U.S., the Charleston
Daily Mail in Charleston, West Virginia declared it was a dance “which some drunken negro
evolved from bodily contortions seen at a camp meetin’ and a voo-doo ceremony....”15
Even the city for which the dance was named shuddered to be associated with the dance.
The city of Charleston, South Carolina, objects to having a current dance of the “jazz” variety
tagged with its name. The so-called “Charleston,”... far from flattering the justly proud
Charlestonians, is causing them to blush more or less continuously with mortification.... [It is] a
“rude dance, affected by a portion of the negro population” and being executed usually “in a
spirit which is not polite.” Let it be known, therefore, that Charleston indignantly disowns the
“Charleston,” whatever may be its intrinsic charm.16

Medical Objections
As the Charleston reached the zenith of its popularity, many physicians argued that the
dance should be banned because its over-enthusiastic contortions were detrimental to one’s
health. “Dance the Charleston and dance yourself into physical collapse ... the ten million or
so young people who nightly strut the latest dance craze ... are ‘hoofing’ their way to the hos-
pital — and perhaps to the cemetery.”17 Doctors reported a variety of ills caused by too much
Charlestoning — water on the knee, twisted ligaments, sprained or strained ankles and backs,
fallen arches, foot deformities, weight loss, depleted energy, hernia, internal injuries, and over-
strained heart.
In Paris, city officials concerned over the dance’s safety denounced the Charleston “as highly
dangerous to health, especially to women...” and debated banning the dance in public halls stat-
ing, “This is a result of the physical collapse of four professional dancing girls after having gone
through the gyrations of the Charleston for several hours.”18
The Charleston was physically active and dancers in the madness of the moment often vio-
lently threw their arms and legs about with utter abandon. There were several reported injuries
sustained from either performing the energetic dance or being pummeled by a fellow dancer.
On November 21, 1925, the New York Times reported, “Too much dancing of the Charleston is
believed to be the cause of the serious illness of Thomas Duffy of White Street, who has been
confined to his home for several days. An ailment of the back, doctors say, was caused by the
constant jarring resulting from doing the dance step.”19 In Pennsylvania, “Another Charleston
casualty went on record when Herman Wise of South Brownsville slipped and fell during the
17—Reaction to the Charleston 169

gyrations of an especially violent form of the Charleston on a Uniontown dance floor. He suf-
fered a broken arm and other injuries but he continued in the dance until a doctor sent for by
friends arrived.”20 The Sheboygan Press in Sheboygan, Wisconsin reported on a young woman
who fell during the dance and broke her wrist. The paper warned, “Keep on and that dance will
soon be as dangerous as football.”21
A well-respected doctor in Paris condemned the Charleston, labeling it a “dangerous sport”
because of “the violent strain [it] imposed on certain ligaments, especially those around the
knee.” He noted that he had treated 5,000 cases of sprained or dislocated knees and that many
of those he diagnosed could be dubbed as “the Charleston knee.”22
A London specialist admonished that the Charleston “would lead to a permanent distor-
tion of the ankles.”23 The number of people suffering from flat feet became so common, some
doctors dubbed the syndrome “Charleston feet.24 One leading doctor stated, “...ninety percent
of the present-day foot trouble is caused by too much Charleston dancing.”25
Other physicians warned of more serious maladies.26 They cautioned that “the shocks to
the body may displace the heart and other organs ... [and that] ... paralysis and total collapse
due to the contortions, shocks, jolts and jars of the Charleston are quite common.”27 On Feb-
ruary 16, 1926, the New Castle News ran a story about a Kansas girl who died from dancing the
Charleston. The article stated, “The recent death of 17-year-old Evelyn Myers was ‘due to danc-
ing the Charleston,’ her physician, Dr. W. R. Boyer, of Pawnee City, Nebr., said yesterday. Dr.
Boyer declared that the extreme physical exercise of the Charleston is particularly dangerous
for young women and that it may easily induce inflammation of the peritoneum.”28 In Cincin-
nati, Ohio, Geneva Tully, sixteen years old, died of heart disease shortly after winning a
Charleston contest. It was believed the strain of the contest had overtaxed the young woman.29
One physician, Dr. Harry Gilbert, was so eager to find scientific proof that the Charleston
was dangerous, he performed examinations at one of the most popular night clubs in New York
City. He tested the heart rates of dancers before and after dancing the Charleston and discov-
ered that heart rates rose from an average of eighty pulses per minute to one hundred and
thirty-four after performing the dance. He warned that “constant repetition of such exertion
will cause permanent injury to the heart.”30
In Chicago, a special Charleston clinic was opened by the YWCA with the purpose of study-
ing the effects of the dance under strictly regulated laboratory conditions. A team of girl dancers,
all members of a Charleston dance class, were the participants. Their weight was monitored and
a record was kept of heart action and lung power. In addition, “accurate measurements of the
twisting of pretty legs [were] being taken daily to determine what effect the dance has on their
shape and size.”31 Photos were also taken to see if the girl’s personal charms and beauty were
adversely affected.
Some doctors simply disliked the Charleston because its rhythm was irresistible. The Med-
ical Officer at one school in England described how “children of all ages now seem unable to
keep their feet still.”32 He labeled the disease “Charleston Chorea.”
Most medical complaints about the Charleston resulted from injuries related to the dance’s
constant kicking. “Many a time I have had a girl stop in the middle of a dance with a scream
and go down in a little heap, clutching her ankle where it had been kicked by a No. 9 foot,”33
said the proprietor of one dance hall. In Britain, one writer commented, “The trouble with the
Charlestoners is that they exaggerate it and make a stunt of it. They stand in one spot on the
floor and side-kick. The result is that other dancers are kicked, and the girls have their silk
stockings torn.”34 Another critic of the dance observed,
The dance is nothing but a series of kicks and stamps— bow-legged kicks, knock-kneed kicks,
side kicks, back kicks, and stamps to correspond. This irresponsible kicking around, like a fly-
pestered horse, makes it obvious why the dancers maintain the arm’s-length position.35
170 Part IV. The Charleston

The London District Council banned the dance because it was dangerous, and “a number
of dancers received kicks resulting in a nasty dispute.”36 One member of the Council declared
“...the man who invented the Charleston was a fit candidate for the lunatic asylum and that the
‘fools’ who attempted to dance it were ‘balmy.’”37 Many dance halls banned the dance outright,
although one establishment in Brixton created a special roped off area so enthusiasts could
dance all they wanted and only kick other Charleston fanatics. The manager of the hotel said,
“As soon as we notice any couple about to succumb to the Charleston fever, we shove ’em behind
the ropes, and make them stay there until they recover.”38
The Piccadilly Hotel in London was one of the first in that city to prohibit the dance in
any form under any condition, posting signs that read, “You are earnestly requested not to
dance the Charleston.” Other hotels did not officially forbid the dance, but informed their
orchestra leaders to play music that made the Charleston “impossible, or at least difficult to the
point of exterminating it by slow degrees.”39 Many establishments posted signs that read,
“P.C.Q.” which dancers understood to mean “Please Charleston Quietly!”
In addition to concerns about injuries sustained on the dance floor, physicians warned that
the Charleston could affect a woman’s beauty by leading to malformations of the skeletal sys-
tem. Critics feared that the unnatural contortions of the Charleston, with knees and feet turned
in, caused the bones and muscles to harden and would eventually create “...a race of knock-
kneed, pigeon-toed, plier-handled females.”40 They predicted the dire consequences of “...Flo
Ziegfeld diagnosing the charms of a bevy of beauties next year and failing to find one girlish
figure which does not resemble that little instrument with which poppa gets under the fliver.”41
One doctor disagreed. He saw the Charleston as beneficial to the bones of the body. He
said, “...the Charleston could be accurately described as a self-inflicted osteopathic treatment.
From that standpoint it is all to the good.” He disliked the dance for other reasons. He went on
to say, “ any sane person can deceive himself or herself in the belief that it is fun is some-
thing else again.”42
Despite calls to have the Charleston barred from ballrooms and dance halls on the grounds
that it was immodest, tasteless, primitive, sinful, or injurious to health, the dance continued
to grow in popularity. The youth of the 1920’s loved the freedom and spirit of the dance. To be
in step in the modern world, one had to dance the Charleston. As one realist declared, “For ban
it as you will, condemn it as you will, frown upon it and call it vulgar if you are so inclined —
you are merely marking yourself as out of step with the vogue. The Charleston is here to stay....”43

The Pickwick Disaster

Late in the early morning hours of Saturday, July 4, 1925, about 125 people in Boston,
Massachusetts were celebrating the holiday at an “all-night China-town resort”44 called the
Pickwick Club. Several partygoers were turned away that night because the dance hall, located
on the second floor of the old Dreyfus Hotel, on the corner of Washington and Beach, was so
crowded it couldn’t accommodate any more people.
Around 3 A.M. John Duffey finished crooning “West of the Great Divide.” The crowd
shouted for an encore of the song and the band struck up a snappy jazz version of the tune. The
room full of revelers began to Charleston. Some set off firecrackers.
Frank Decker, another singer at the club recalled,
At least fifty couples crowded on the floor and they danced like folks gone mad. Before the
orchestra had played a dozen notes I could feel the floor swaying. I heard loud cracks but thought
they were firecrackers. As the dance neared its close the orchestra speeded up the tempo and the
dancers grew crazier than ever. It seemed as if they couldn’t kick high enough or stamp their feet
17—Reaction to the Charleston 171

hard enough to satisfy themselves. When the orchestra was blaring almost the last note of the
piece, there came a deafening roar. The lights went out, and in the twinkling of an eye, the old
Pickwick club was no more.45

The five-story building that housed the Pickwick Club collapsed.46

The front exit of the club had a “trick” lock so the crowd could not escape that way.47 Some
were able to scramble out the fire escape at the back of the building or leap out windows in the
one wall that was left standing. A few were actually thrown from the building as it crumbled.
Most were buried.
Two hundred firemen, elevated road workers, and members of the Public Works Depart-
ment arrived to begin the rescue effort. They worked gingerly to avoid further collapse. “Under
the concentrating glare of dozens of arc lights an army of men had patiently, brick by brick,
stick by stick, worked their way down through the mass of debris, pausing now and again to
lift another unfortunate.”48 The mayor of Boston, James M. Curley personally oversaw the recov-
ery until he was so exhausted he was forced to go home.
Rescue efforts continued the next day. In a neighboring cabaret “on the second floor of an
adjoining building ... an orchestra blared jazz while others danced alongside the scene of the
disaster.”49 The huge crowd that gathered to watch the rescue efforts began to boo and hiss, and
an officer was sent to order the music to stop.

The wreckage of the Pickwick Club in Boston after it collapsed. This photo appeared in the Morning
Herald in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, on July 7, 1925 with the caption “Where Many Dancers Lost Lives.”
Reprinted with permission Herald-Standard.
172 Part IV. The Charleston

The carnage within the five-story collapse was overwhelming. One bizarre account told of
a man extricated from the wreckage:
Inch after inch the corpse emerged, but when five feet of its length, and then six and seven feet
continued to come the rescuers gasped. Not until a full nine feet of man had been pulled from
the jagged mass of twisted steel and wood was the body freed.50

Reports stated the man’s head and feet had been caught and pulled in opposite directions until
his bones were pulled out of their sockets and his body stretched. Another victim, a woman,
was severed at the waist. According to one account, a fireman named Edward F. Doyle “suffered
a mental breakdown under the stress of the rescue work and it required eight of his comrades
to put him in the ambulance that bore him to the hospital.”51
Scores of seriously injured victims were pulled from the wreckage and rushed to local hos-
pitals. Nineteen were confirmed dead, but the death toll quickly rose to thirty-seven. Workers
ran out of the long wicker baskets they were using to transport the bodies and more had to be
sent from a neighboring mortuary. A derrick and two steam shovels were brought in to remove
the slabs of foundation stone and the remaining front wall that threatened to topple in on the
recovery efforts. Workers tried tunneling into the basement of the Pickwick building from a
construction site that was adjacent to the club.52 Two more bodies were found. Fifty hours after
the collapse, the bodies of Bart Chapman, Lillian McIssac, and Clara Fredrick were pulled from
the wreckage and at 5:20 in the morning of the 6th, the last victim, Frank Driscoll, whose bat-
tered body was identified by the union card found in his pocket, was found. The final death toll
would reach forty-four.53
The morning after the building’s collapse, the police shot William Robinson in the arm
for looting.54 They arrested three others who were pillaging through the remains of the club’s
cloakroom, which was in the corner of the building and had survived mostly intact and was
shielded by the fallen floors. Angelo Cook, a rescue worker, was also arrested for pocketing
money he found on victims while digging through the ruins. He had collected $29.00.
On Monday, July 6, District Attorney Thomas C. O’Brien launched a grand jury investi-
gation to look into the cause of the collapse.55 In addition, all nightclubs and resorts in the city,
as well as the theatre and all other buildings that surrounded the Pickwick, were shut down
pending further inspection. “As a result of the Pickwick Club disaster, Police Superintendent
Crowley has ordered the closing of the Lambs Club in the Back Bay district, and the Black and
White Club in Roxbury, both which have been operated along lines similar to the Pickwick
Club.”56 The owners of both nightclubs defied the order and remained opened for business as
The Pickwick Club disaster had far-reaching effects on how the Charleston was perceived.
Many suspected that the collapse of the building was a result of the dancers’ violent movements.
Dance halls were closed and the dance was banned. The Charleston was called the “Dance of
“The Charleston dance may shake the foundations of public morality all it wants to, but
when it weakens the foundations of buildings housing dance floors, it ought to be stopped,”59
said city officials in Kansas City. After inspecting several buildings and finding them “thrown
out of plumb by the vibrations and gyrations of Charleston enthusiasts,” they looked “askance
[at] the popularity of the violent pastime”60 and prohibited it. Similar bans were called for in
many other states. In Passaic, New Jersey, the Chief of Police stationed his men outside all danc-
ing establishments to enforce his anti–Charleston edict. He banned the Charleston in all older
halls, only allowing the dance in buildings that had been erected within the past month. He
stated, “The Charleston is alright [sic] morally, so far as I know, but we do not want any casu-
alties here because of it.”61
17—Reaction to the Charleston 173

A cartoon by Ruth Wilson, with text by Mercedes R. Baker from the collegiate magazine VooDoo (1925
Girl’s Number Issue, page 8). Reprinted with permission VooDoo Magazine, Massachusetts Institute
of Technology.
174 Part IV. The Charleston

One commentator in the San Antonio Light wrote:

Reformers and moralists of all sorts look upon the Charleston as perhaps the most harmless of all
dances since the stately minuet. It violates no laws, no codes of which they know anything. But
to the structural engineer it is a menace and invention of the devil, monkeying with the laws of
vibration and the building codes. The tango may be a home-wrecker, but the Charleston is a

Articles appeared in newspapers around the country offering scientific proof that the Pick-
wick had collapsed because “the newest crazy dance step causes vibrations which give the stamp-
ing heels of an average couple the destructive force of a giant twenty times their weight.”63 These
articles stated that it was the scientific property of resonance that caused the crash. In other
words, the amplitude of oscillation created by the repeated cadence of the Charleston dancers
matched the natural frequency of the Pickwick building causing it to vibrate and shatter, sim-
ilar to a glass shattering when a certain high pitch is sounded.64
What the Charleston lacks in rhyme and reason, it makes up in rhythm, vicious brick-and-mor-
tar destroying rhythm which the scientist calls “resonance”.... It never occurred to any one that
there was going among the molecules and atoms, millions of little divorces that were not
recorded to human eyes, mortar that was more and more ready to become just lime powder and
limp sand and wood and steel getting nearer and nearer to the snapping point. The Charleston
makes some persons tired and it made that old building tired, more tired every day, until it could
no longer stand up and flopped its weary bones on the street.65

The Charleston fad was relatively short. When Ann Pennington introduced the Black Bot-
tom in George White’s Scandals of 1926, a new craze caught the public’s interest and rivaled the
Charleston as society’s favorite dance.66 Nevertheless, the Charleston had a lasting impact on
the world of social dancing.
The Charleston was the first dance to be readily accepted by men. College boys, athletes,
policemen, waiters, princes— all wanted to learn the snappy dance. The relative simplicity of
the steps made it accessible to a wider audience, both male and female, and because they didn’t
have to study with a professional teacher to learn the dance, men and women alike were drawn
to the Charleston in huge numbers.
In their classic book Jazz Dance: the Story of American Vernacular Dance, the Stearns’ also
point out that the Charleston was important because “...the distinction between popular dances
to watch, and popular dances to dance, was wiped out.”67 Contests were prevalent and anyone
of any age or level of technical training could compete. This also led to the blurring of the line
between professional stage performer and amateur. Most anyone could do the Charleston. The
popularity and pizzazz of the dance also led to its being incorporated in many acts, especially

Inset from an article in the San Antonio Light from Sunday, August 9, 1925, showing how the steps of
the Charleston created a resonance that resulted in the Pickwick disaster. Copyright 1925 San Antonio
Light. Reprinted with permission San Antonio Express-News.
17—Reaction to the Charleston 175

An article in the San Antonio Light from Sunday, August 9, 1925, that explained how the vibrations
caused by dancing the Charleston resulted in the collapse of the Pickwick Club in Boston. Copyright
1925 San Antonio Light. Reprinted with permission San Antonio Express-News.
176 Part IV. The Charleston

tap dance routines, thus leading to new, innovative tap styles, and a merging of tap and ball-
room on a professional level.68
The close dance hold that had marked earlier couple dances was abandoned with the
Charleston and individuality was welcomed on the dance floor, foreshadowing the breakaway
moves that later exploded in the Jitterbug and Break dancing. During the Jazz Age, cutting-in
became more readily accepted, and dancers could change partners in the middle of a dance.
Because it did not cover the floor like other couple dances before it, such as the waltz, ani-
mal dances, and tango, the Charleston was also easy to film. The dance was frequently featured
in the films of the fledgling motion picture industry.69 The image of the madcap, dancing flapper
has been seared into the consciousness of the world, insuring the Charleston’s place as the quin-
tessential iconic image of the Roaring Twenties.

Harmony and Disharmony

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “ball,” defined as “a social assembly
for dancing,” first came into common usage in the early 1630’s. The word was derived from the
Old French, baler, the Italian, ballare, and the Spanish bailar, all of which meant, “to dance,”1
but “the etymology of the word had deep primal associations with confrontation and battle.”2
These connections are evident in other definitions of the word such as “a missile ... projected
from an engine of war,” “a globular case or shell filled with combustibles, intended to set build-
ings on fire, or to give light, smoke, etc.,” and “a globular body to play with, which is thrown,
kicked, knocked, or batted about”3— all definitions with connotations of violence and compe-
Dance historians point out that many dances evolved out of representations of fighting,
military displays, or other forms of aggression. War dances are found in almost all cultures.
The Scottish sword dance is one example of dancing based upon militaristic themes. The move-
ments of the English Morris dance symbolically depicted the battle between the Moors and the
Christians. The footwork of the galliard and the volta evolved from fencing positions.
In fact, the word “ball” is believed by some to be a corruption of the word “brawl,” and
during the Renaissance, the French court dance, the branle, was known as the brawl (or brawle)
in England. Pyrotechnic displays, mock battles, and military parades frequently accompa-
nied ceremonial dancing parties, and it was not uncommon for country dances to end in
One macabre blending of violence and dancing occurred shortly after the French revolu-
tion in ballrooms and salons across the Continent. A practice developed called bals à la victime.
Only the relatives of people who had died by the guillotine attended these events. The women
adorned their throats with red ribbons to symbolize the effects of the blade. As the ball-goers
danced, they shook their heads from side to side as if they were about to roll off.
Dancing has also often involved competition. In the Middle Ages, dancing accompanied
tennis matches. At court, the minuet was used as an opportunity to outshine other members
of the nobility. Men vigorously competed with each other in the schuhplattler, and vied for a
maiden’s attentions in the ländler. The competition to gain entry into the balls and dancing
parties at Almack’s was legendary.
Another definition of the word “ball” contains the concept of harmony versus disharmony;
the word is defined as “any planetary or celestial body” which has associations with the order-
ing of the universe out of primordial chaos. The word was frequently used in reference to the
sun, and the earliest roots of dancing can be traced to mimetic sun-worship rituals and prim-
itive human’s use of dance to insure the order and harmony in the world.
In his book, Religious Dances in the Christian Church and in Popular Medicine, Louis Back-
man describes a medieval dance that combined both the ancient aspects of the sun-worship-
ping ritual and a ball game. Called the pelota, this dance was usually performed by bishops or
archbishops and their subordinates on Easter. The priests held hands in a long chain and did a
three-step dance as they moved through a labyrinth set on the floor of the cathedral. As they

178 Part IV. The Charleston

performed the dance, the dean of the church tossed a ball to each of the participants. Histori-
ans surmise that the ball symbolized the sun and was associated with the legend that if people
rose early enough on Easter morning, they would see the sun dancing in the sky.4 The dance
and ball game were used as a mystery play representing the Resurrection. The movement through
the labyrinth represented Christ’s journey into the underworld, his battle with Satan, and His
escape from the Kingdom of the Dead.5 The dance, therefore, represented both the forces of
good and evil. It revealed both conflict and resolution.
These opposing aspects of conflict and resolution, or order and disorder, are both found
within the various definitions of the word “ball;” they form an integral part of the word’s mean-
ing as well, as it is applied to social dancing. “The ballroom itself has been an arena wherein
participants tacitly played with the term’s duality of meanings—creation and destruction —
through powerful and symbolic actions of ceremonial conduct and dancing.”6
Therefore, to fully understand the cultural and historical impact of a social dance such as
the waltz, one must balance its beauty, grace, and well-ordered harmony on the one hand with
its many associations with turmoil and competition on the other.

The Waltz as Metaphor

Reactions to the waltz clearly embodied this duality. It was loved and hated; worshipped
and feared; embraced and attacked. The dance contained both beauty and danger. Its paradox-
ical nature mirrored the equally dualistic nature of Victorian beliefs about class, economics, and
As discussed earlier, the waltz democratized social dancing. Danced by all levels of soci-

“The Hunt Ball,” an 1880’s photogravure/engraving by D. Appleton & Co., New York, of an oil paint-
ing by Jules (Julius) L. Stewart. The original was exhibited at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893.
18—Harmony and Disharmony 179

ety regardless of pedigree or income, performance in the waltz was based on skill rather than
on social status. Couples swirled around the room in any order, wherever they chose. Position
on the dance floor was not determined by rank.
Those who pointed out the evils of waltzing warned that it was this very freedom that
threatened morality. In the waltz, women danced with complete strangers. Unsuspecting females
were therefore unwittingly subjected to all types of unsavory characters. The democratic waltz
allowed even libertines and lotharios to be included.
Social conflicts played out in other ways in the waltz. To be allowed into Almack’s or to
dance with a duke at the Apollo Hall in Vienna could lead to acceptance in the right social cir-
cles or to a suitable marriage with someone of higher station. Giving a ball called attention to
the host’s social status and wealth, as did being included on the right guest list. Opponents of
the waltz pointed to its lower class, primitive beginnings. In his book The Lure of the Dance, T.
A. Faulkner wrote, “The so-called folk dance is the first rudiment of the waltz, and the notori-
ous underworld round dance called the ‘one-step.’ [It] originated in the slums of Paris....”7
Many late eighteenth century aristocrats were horrified by the waltz’s crude, rural flavor. The
waltz reflected these conflicting notions. For some it was the embodiment of grace, elegance,
and beauty — an expression of civilization at its zenith. For others, it was a shameless exhibi-
tion and a proof of the downfall of society.
Conflicting economic issues were also embodied in the waltz. Unlike the minuet, the waltz
was a simple dance to learn, not requiring the expensive services of a dancing master. Because
the waltz posed a threat to their income, dancing masters shifted the emphasis from technique
to manners and began utilizing the dance as a means of imparting moral training.
Economic interests led dancing teachers to form professional organizations that codified
the teaching of round dances. They stated that money spent for lessons was a small price to pay
for avoiding an embarrassing faux pas. The waltz initially threatened the dancing teachers’ liveli-
hood but eventually guaranteed their success.
There were other conflicts surrounding the economic impact of the waltz. The wasteful
extravagance of dancing became the frequent subject of debate, and questions about the stew-
ardship of time and money became one of the main themes in anti-dance literature. Ball-gowns
and ballroom decorations cost money. Emperor Francis I of Austria even raised taxes by fifty
percent to support the waltzing habit of the delegates to the Vienna Congress. Critics of the
waltz asked, “How could these things be justified when money could better be spent feeding
one’s family or helping the poor?”
Perhaps the most obvious example of the waltz’s ability to embody the turmoil of the Vic-
torian era is how it expressed society’s preoccupation with gender roles. The dance reflected
conflicts that arose about how emotions and feelings should best be expressed between men and
women in the context of proper social behavior. The physical enactment of these social interac-
tions in the waltz mirrored the changing, paradoxical nature of nineteenth century ideologies.
These conflicting ideologies were most apparent in the complex societal and cultural sex-
ual stereotypes that assigned the role of leader to the man and follower to the woman. In her
book, From the Ballroom to Hell: Grace and Folly in Nineteenth-century Dance, Elizabeth Aldrich
quotes Peter Shaw’s essay on the subject. Shaw states,

Each partner accepts the constraints and enjoys the prerogatives of a frankly-stereotyped role.
The woman accepts that she must follow ... but she has the more desirable steps and a degree of
freedom from care.... [The man’s] is a role of responsibility, as it was once universally believed to
be his sexual role in life.8

Yet, the roles that each assumed while dancing had even more subtle and profound mean-
ings than what might first appear. In order to accomplish the rapid spinning of the waltz, both
180 Part IV. The Charleston

the man and the woman had to step in close to their partners. The waltz required a willingness
to risk intimacy by both male and female. Both had to lean back, trusting in the support of
their partners as they surrendered to the motion of turning. The man trusted the strength of
the woman as equally as she trusted his. In order to waltz effectively, the couple had to share
a common axis. They had to hold a continuous point of contact, and at the same time main-
tain self-sufficiency. If one overpowered the other, they would spin out of control. Both had to
share a common center without losing identity or individuality. It was this dual approach to
spatial intimacy — of proximity and distance — that allowed the greatest freedom while waltz-
The waltz was a powerful metaphor, reflecting changing views about relationships during
this period in history. It revealed new understandings about a woman’s ability to contribute
equally and a man’s need to share power. The structured improvisational quality of the waltz
required both partners to listen and respond appropriately on equal terms.
In this way, the waltz not only democratized social dancing by breaking down class barri-
ers, but it also called into question gender stereotypes. The man was formally the leader, but
the woman’s role as follower demanded equal strength and support. In a very basic way the six-
step pattern of the waltz footwork, with the man swinging around the woman as she swiveled
on her own axis, then his swiveling as she swung across him, put the woman and the man on
equal footing.
At first glance, the world of the nineteenth and early twentieth century ballroom seems
ordered with the strictest rules regarding manners, behavior, and proper protocol, all created
to insure social harmony and agreement. However, it was also a place where, according to dance
detractors, danger and conflict lurked, morality was threatened, and people could spin out of
The waltz expressed this duality. It gave outer expression to inner experience, intimately
revealing beliefs, philosophies, confusions, and concerns. At the same time, it reflected the tur-
moil of Victorian society and a rapidly changing world. The dance expressed both chaos and
control. The wicked waltz symbolized both the heights of social attainment and the depths of

The Animal Dances, the Tango, and the Charleston

The aspects of violence, competition, and eventual resolution are also present in the dance
crazes of the early twentieth century. These dances evoked both strong negative and positive
reactions. They were hated and loved with equal passion. They mirrored the disorder and order
of the times in which they appeared.
The steady trotting footwork of the dances of the ragtime era was embellished with the
leans, lurches, and twitching of barnyard animals. Critics saw these simple, fidgety dances as
expressions of social unrest. Psychologists and sociologists compared them to the dance epi-
demics of the Middle Ages. As with many social dances, however, animal dances were eventu-
ally refined, and they made their way into the salons of the social elite. The animal dance craze
brought about a boom in exhibition ballroom dancers. When performed by the dancing feet of
Vernon and Irene Castle, these dances became a youthful, joyous expression of elegance and
class, and the symbol of a world moving hopefully into a new century.
The roots of the tango grew out of the milonga, a dance whose very name is derived from
an African word meaning “argument.” According to Robert Farris Thompson, however, the
dance was not seen “as a predicament but as an amiable argument, an argument solved by gen-
erosity, shared values, and celebratory spirit.”9 The early duels between the compadritos and
18—Harmony and Disharmony 181

“The Last Waltz” by Clarence F. Underwood, an early twentieth century Viennese postcard.
182 Part IV. The Charleston

“The Dance,” a 1906 lithograph by Howard Chandler Christy.

18—Harmony and Disharmony 183

Italian immigrants, taunting each other with knives in the duelo criollo, became the elegant, rit-
ualized footwork of the tango.
As a dance that featured individuality over matching steps with one’s partner, the
Charleston ignited a fire in the competitive spirit of young people around the world. Charleston
contests were common. Besting someone on the dance floor was expected. It was a dance in
which the body fought the constraints of control and fellow dancers were often kicked. The
Charleston was seen by some as a brutal expression of a wounded generation, confused and
angry after a devastating World War. It was violent — so violent that city officials feared it could
bring down buildings. But it was also joyful — a release from tension and a proclamation of self-
hood. When the flapper danced, she proudly proclaimed to the world that she deserved to be
treated with respect and equanimity. The Charleston helped to level the playing field. In some
ways, it was an expression of reconciliation between genders, classes, and races.
These dances reflected society. They revealed the era’s conflicting notions about class, eco-
nomics, and gender. Animal dances had their genesis in the dives and seedy dancehalls of the
Barbary Coast. The tango was developed in brothels in the slaughterhouse district of Buenos
Aires. The Charleston was a dance originally done by slaves brought over from Africa. All of these
dances ended up in the salons and ballrooms of the rich and famous. They were greeted with
shock and dismay, but they crossed social boundaries and shattered class distinctions. And like
the waltz, they were democratic dances in the sense that anyone could do them. For many in the
working class, keeping current with the latest trends in dancing became the symbol of modernity
and a way of gaining status by imitating the moves of the wealthy. Hours spent in rigorous study
with a dancing master gave way to learning the dance from friends, or a cheap dance manual,
or a motion picture short. There were still instructors, of course, but the new dances were acces-
sible to everyone. As the anthem of the ragtime age pointed out, everybody was “doing it.”
Class distinctions were blurred by venue as well. The invitation-only, formal ballroom gave
way to the public dance hall. Reformers may have warned that the dance halls could be dens of
iniquity, but thousands flocked to them, radically changing the landscape of American urban
culture. During the prohibition years, speakeasies flourished. Bankers, actors, criminals, and
socialites intermingled in these smokey nightspots reflecting a dynamic shift in American class
These dances brought financial success to some and left others deep in debt. They affected
aspects of entertainment, fashion, and music — even influencing building codes. Business booms
and busts reflected the economic impact of these dance crazes, and similarly the dances reflected
the economic trends of the day.
Issues of gender were mirrored in the steps of the animal dances, the tango and the
Charleston. As working class women crowded into dancehalls, they challenged old sterotypes
about the roles of women in society. The sheltered Victorian maiden gave way to a more inde-
pendent woman who could attend a dance without a chaperone and dance with a man of her
own choosing. For many young immigrant women, dancing an animal dance was an expres-
sion of American individualism.
The tango and the woman who did it were provocative. She exposed her sexual nature
openly by allowing the man to press his body over hers in a dip in public. In the book Tango!
The Dance, the Song, the Story, the authors wrote,
No dance plays command against subjugation as supremely and concisely as the tango does.
More than any other dance, it is gender-led. The tradition of the male as leader who sets the pro-
tocol and the female as subordinate, subject to a few extroverted flourishes to enhance the male’s
decorum, is a long-standing etiquette of gender relations....10
While dancing the tango, however, the female had parity. The man and woman embraced
with equal force and “...for every thrust of the male there [was] a female parry....”11 As the
184 Part IV. The Charleston

woman kicked or stepped her leg between the man’s legs, she symbolically invaded his domain
and in doing so, suggested his vulnerability.
The tango brought important changes in women’s liberation. These changes were signaled
when women discarded their constricting hobble skirts, and replaced them with daring slit skirts
and trouserettes so that they could match men’s strides.
The Charleston changed women forever. Corsets and long curly locks came off; hemlines
and spirits went up. It was a dance of joyous abandon and a symbol of physical freedom. The
Charleston was energetic, optimistic, and openly erotic. It reflected the emancipation of women.
It required strength, stamina, athleticism, and chutzpah. The dancing flapper was the modern
The Charleston was also the first dance readily accepted by men. Up until this time, danc-
ing was not considered a manly art. The Charleston made it acceptable for men to move their
bodies in public without threatening their masculinity.

In Conclusion
On March 10, 1963, the Independent Press-Telegram in Long Beach, California, ran an inter-
view with famed choreographer Eugene Loring, entitled “What’s the Twist Doing to Us?” The
interviewer observed that the twist seemed to be a reflection of the uncertainty and turmoil of
the day, and questioned Mr. Loring about his reaction to the latest dancing fad. Loring responded,
“Violence in dancing is as cyclical as wars and the social upheaval they bring....”12
Dance fads throughout the decades have been a manifestation of society’s beliefs, values,
attitudes, confusions, and concerns. Radical changes in dancing styles have portended radical
changes in class structure, economics, and gender identity. They have reflected coming changes
and mirrored society’s resistance to these changes. Dance fads have given physical form to social
confusion and offered a controlled outlet for this turmoil. They have often provided a solution
for resolving crisis through a physical acting out of the issue.
The wicked waltz and other scandalous dances not only reflected society, but also shaped
it. They compelled the world to decide what was beautiful, what was decent, and what was mod-
ern. They embodied both violence and grace, and they set the world dancing.
Chapter Notes

Chapter 1 “Mixt” or “gynaecandrical” (couple) dancing was espe-

cially frowned upon because the Puritans believed it led to
sexual misconduct and therefore broke the Seventh Com-
1. Extracted from Billy Sunday’s sermon “Backsliding”
mandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” One Puritan,
(available at several on-line sources).
William Prynne wrote,
2. Author unknown (available at several on-line sources)
3. Ann Wagner, Adversaries of Dance: From the Puritans Dancing serves no necessary use! No profitable
to the Present. (Chicago: University of Illinois, 1997) p. 236, laudable or pious end at all.... The way to heaven
quoting Billy Sunday. is too steep, too narrow for men to dance and keep
4. Members of the primitive Christian Church believed revel rout. No way is large or smooth enough for
that angels danced in adoration around the throne of God, capering roisters, for skipping, jumping, dancing
and after death, the blessed joined in this dance in Paradise. dames but that broad, beaten pleasant road that
Ring dances were used in religious rituals to imitate this heav- leads to Hell.
enly dance on earth. The use of dance was so common in the
early Church that it was used after most prayers, during bap- (Richard Nevel, A Time to Dance: American Country Danc-
tism rituals, during the ordination of priests, and on many ing from Hornpipes to Hot Hash. (New York: St. Martin’s
other occasions. Press, 1977) p. 29, quoting William Prynne’s Histrioma-
5. Wagner, p. 10. trix.)
6. Louis E. Backman, Religious Dances in the Christian 18. Wagner, p. 49, quoting Increase Mather’s Testimony
Church and in Popular Medicine. (London: George Allen & Against several Prophane and Superstitious Customs (1668).
Unwin, 1952) p. 32, quoting St. Chrysostom. The Puritans objected to Maypole dancing because of its
7. Wagner, p. 7. pagan origins. Dancing which was tied to drinking or feast-
8. Ibid. ing was also frowned upon. Certain mild forms of dance were
9. Wagner, p. 9, quoting Fabritius. accepted if they were used to teach manners to children.
10. Wagner, p. 21. Group contra-dances that utilized formations were also
11. Wagner, p. 14, quoting Henri Cornelius Agrippa’s Of accepted. In 1684, ministers in Boston issued a tract that
Vanitie and uncertaintie of Artes and Sciences. stated that mixed dancing of any kind was sinful but did
12. Wagner, p. 27. admit that dance could be used to teach children “due poyse
13. There were proponents of dancing during the Eliza- and Composure of Body,” if they were sent to the proper kind
bethan era such as Sir Thomas Elyot, advisor to Henry VIII, of teacher, “a grave person who will teach them decency of
who believed that the partner formations found in proper behaviour, and each sex by themselves.” The tract reminded
dancing not only reflected the order and harmony of holy ministers that they were not even allowed to be a spectator
matrimony but was a model for it. The ideal wife followed at an event where dancing took place.
her husband’s lead, just a lady followed a gentleman on the (Quotes from An Arrow Against the Profane and Promis-
dance floor. Sir John Davies reaffirmed this concept in his cuous Dancing, drawn out of the quiver of the Scriptures. By
poem Orchestra, or a Poem of Dancing (1596). He wrote, “For the Ministers of Christ at Boston in New-England by Increase
whether forth or back or round he go, As doth the man, so Mather, 1684.)
must the woman do” (Wagner, p. 23). 19. In the United States, issues of race and economics,
14. Opponents to dancing felt that it was wrong to dance especially in regards to African American culture deeply
on the Sabbath since it was ordained as a day of rest and con- influenced society’s negative perceptions about dancing.
templation. In tandem with dancing’s tendency to lead peo- Many were opposed to dancing simply because the move-
ple into impure thoughts, participating in vigorous physical ments and rhythms were associated with blacks. In a similar
exercise, made dancing on a Sunday doubly sinful. way, folk traditions such as those that influenced the devel-
15. Wagner, p. 28. opment of the waltz were sometimes viewed as too earthy
16. Historians believe that Increase Mather was incited to and therefore uncivilized.
write his anti-dance treatise after Francis Stepney, a Boston 20. Wagner, p. 55.
dancing master, claimed that he could teach more “Divin- 21. Cotton Mather, “A Cloud of Witness; Darting out
ity” in “one Play” of his dance lessons than either the local Light upon a Case, too Unseasonably made Seasonable to be
Puritan preacher, the Reverend Willard, or the Old Testa- Discoursed on” (Boston: [B. Green and J Allen], [1700]).
ment. Area clergymen were outraged and took Stepney to Mather is actually quoting M. Rabutin, “in his Instructions
court where he was ordered to stand trial for “Blasphemous to his Children.”
Words; and Reviling the Government.” Stepney was found 22. Wagner, p. 93, quoting Oliver Hart’s “Dancing
guilty and was fined one hundred pounds. Stepney ran away Exploded. A Sermon showing the unlawfulness, sinfulness
without paying his debt, reconfirming the prevailing belief and bad consequences of balls, assemblies, and dances in gen-
that dancing masters were of low character. Mather’s anti- eral; preached in Charleston S.C., 22 March 1778.”
dance tract came out twelve days after Stepney’s conviction. 23. Wagner, p. 93, quoting Oliver Hart.
17. Increase Mather, “An Arrow Against Profane and 24. Wagner, P. 107.
Promiscuous Dancing” (Boston: Printed by Samuel Green, 25. The desire to be part of the privileged class was a press-
and sold by Joseph Brunning, 1684) np. ing concern for Americans trying to advance themselves dur-

186 Notes — Chapter 1

ing the nineteenth century. As the nouveau riche attempted 28. The Second Great Awakening was characterized by a
to buy their way into acceptance, sending their sons to the spirit of energetic evangelical activism. Whereas leaders of the
best schools, building huge mansions, and trying to outdo first Great awakening stressed the inherent sinful nature of
one another by purchasing expensive jewels and lavish man and his lack of power to overcome this nature without
apparel, they realized that to a certain extent, social accept- the direct intervention of God through the Holy Spirit, evan-
ance could be “bought” with a few dance lessons. Knowing gelicals of the Second Great Awakening focused on sin as a
the correct way to move on the ballroom floor provided a result of human action, preaching that man had the ability
certification of social standing. The urban elite rushed to the to resist sin consciously. This doctrinal stance significantly
nearest dancing master for instruction in manners and influenced anti-dance literature by placing emphasis on
deportment. They snatched up the latest books on how to moral action.
dance and searched for tidbits of advice that would help them 29. Wagner, p. 117, quoting Charles Grandison Finney’s
advance in society. The explanation of steps in these dance Hindrances to Revivals (Boston: Willard Tract Repository,
manuals was almost secondary; the main topic of interest n.d.) p. 118.
was how dancing could express savoir faire. The obsession In addition to condemning social dancing during this
with polite social graces consumed a rapidly expanding pros- period, conservative revivalists criticized another disturbing
perous middle class and fueled a prolific outpouring of cour- threat to rational behavior. During the height of the Revival-
tesy literature. Myriad etiquette books and numerous dance ist movement, frontier camp meetings often bordered on hys-
manuals with extensive sections on self-improvement, man- teria. Huge numbers of worshippers, drawn up in the fervor
ners, and deportment were written to teach the minute details of the moment, manifested wild physical symptoms called
of proper behavior on or off the dance floor. Careful study “exercises.” Although these spontaneous ecstatic movements
was required so that those striving to advance had an inti- were thought by many to be true manifestations of the Holy
mate knowledge of the customs and refinements that gra- Spirit, they troubled conservative members of the Protestant
cious living demanded. Strict standards regulated high Church because they were uncontrolled, unsightly, and too
society, and those who wished to be accepted in the haut similar to dancing for comfort. These exercises took various
monde had to play by the rules. forms, the most common being “jerking,” in which first the
In 1879, the author of Social Etiquette of New York wrote, arms and then the entire body twitched uncontrollably. In his
autobiography, published in 1856, Methodist minister, Peter
Etiquette is the machinery of society. It polishes and
Cartwright described the practice:
protects even while conducting its charge. It prevents
the agony of uncertainty, and soothes even when it A new exercise broke out among us, called the jerks,
cannot cure the pains of blushing bashfulness.... It is which was overwhelming in its effects upon the bod-
like a wall built up around us to protect us from dis- ies and minds of the people. No matter whether they
agreeable, underbred people, who refuse to take the were saints or sinners, they would be taken under a
trouble to be civil.... If one is certain of being cor- warm song or sermon, and seized with a convulsive
rect, there is little to be anxious about. jerking all over, which they could not possibly avoid,
and the more they resisted the more they jerked. If
(Quote extracted from Social Etiquette of New York. (New
they would not strive against it and pray in good
York, 1879) pp. [7]–9. This version was taken from Elizabeth
earnest, the jerking would usually abate. I have seen
Aldrich’s book From the Ballroom to Hell: Grace and Folly in
more than five hundred persons jerking at one time
Nineteenth-century Dance, p. 55.)
in my large congregations. Most usually persons
Although dance manuals and etiquette books helped many
taken with the jerks, to obtain relief, as they said,
to achieve their goal of attaining higher social status, the
would rise up and dance. Some would run, but could
stringent protocol set out in these books also created a bar-
not get away. Some would resist; on such the jerks
rier for some; the slightest faux pas could brand them for-
were generally very severe.
ever, as outsiders. Dance manuals covered every subject of
ballroom behavior: how to respond to an invitation; how to (Noel Rae, editor. Witnessing America: The Library of Con-
enter the room; how to converse; and of course, how to dance gress Book of Firsthand Accounts of Life in America 1600–1900.
with grace and modesty. Victorian courtesy literature also (New York: Penguin, 1996) p.393, quoting Peter Cartwright’s
offered explicit advice about how to give a proper ball. Eliz- Autobiography, 1856.)
abeth Aldrich cites many interesting and humorous exam- Moralists of the early nineteenth century placed great
ples in her book. On p. 117–118, she quotes Manners and Tone emphasis upon controlled, rational, reasonable behavior, and
of Good Society, By a Member of the Aristocracy: “dancing exercises” such as the “jerks” were seen as extremely
vulgar and disturbing.
Several fashionable ball-givers are beginning to per-
ceive the folly of crowding two hundred to three Whenever a woman was taken with the jerks at a
hundred people together into rooms not properly camp meeting her friends formed a circle about her,
ventilated, and have discovered that the only way in for the exercise was so violent that she could scarcely
which to render the temperature of a London ball maintain a correct posture. Men would go bumping
comparatively cool, is to remove the windows, and about over benches, into trees, bruising and cutting
substitute lace draperies in lieu of bunting, with the themselves, if friends did not catch and hold them.
addition of large blocks of ice placed in every con- Some were ashamed of having the jerks, but most
venient spot. persons agreed that it was impossible to resist them.
On p. 116, she quotes The Habits of Good Society: A Hand- (Marshall Stearns, The Story of Jazz. (New York: Oxford Uni-
book for Ladies and Gentlemen: versity Press, 1956) p.87, quoting G. G. Johnson, Ante-Bel-
lum North Carolina (Chapel Hill: The University of North
[A] polished floor, whatever the wood, is always the Carolina Press, 1937) p.399.)
best thing to dance on, and, if you want to give a 30. Theories of evolution proposed by Charles Darwin
ball, and not only a crush, you should hire a man and later discussed by Herbert Spenser and Edward Burnett
who, with a brush under one foot and a slipper on Tylor dominated intellectual thought in the second part of
the other, will dance over the floor for four or five the nineteenth century. These evolutionists touted a linear
hours, till you can almost see your face in it. development of culture and viewed Africans as being on the
26. Wagner, p. 113. lower end of the spectrum. European culture on the other
27. Social Mirror (St. Louis: 1888) p. 17, extracted from hand represented the pinnacle of evolution. Social Darwin-
Aldrich, p. 59. ism taught that there was a progression from primitivism to
Notes—Chapter 2 187

civilization and that primal, savage urges lay just below the on the White Slave Trade. (no city or publisher listed, 1910)
surface. Succumbing to these urges in the dance was a dan- p. 112.
gerous slide backwards down the ladder of evolution and was 40. H. W. Lytle, and John Dillon. From Dance Hall to
thought to signify the downfall of civilization. White Slavery. (Chicago: Charles C. Thompson, 1912) intro-
31. Fanny Essler was of Austrian decent. Her meteoric rise ductory page, quoting Lester Bodine.
to international fame was largely due to the manipulation of 41. Lytle, p. 8, quoting the Investigation of the Social Evil
the director of the Paris Opera, Dr. Véron, who manufac- in Chicago by the Municipal Vice Commission.
tured a competition between Essler and another ballet star, 42. Lytle, introductory page, quoting Jane Addams.
Marie Taglioni. Véron masterfully fueled his publicity 43. Tom Sims, “New U.S. Dance Seen by Sims”
machine by pitting both ballerinas against each other until Reno Evening Gazette, Reno, NV, September 28, 1925, p. 8,
their rivalry was the talk of Paris. Eventually things reached col. 3.
such a fever pitch, both women had had enough of the petty 44. Catherine Rehart, The Valley’s Legends and Legacies.
sniping and comparisons and left Paris altogether. Taglioni (Sanger, CA: Quill Driver Books/Word Dancer Press, 1996)
toured to Russia, and Essler opted for the United States. Both p.228.
had sensational success. Essler is credited with developing 45. Jim Dawson, The Twist: The Story of the Song and
and popularizing balletic character dance. Her most famous Dance the Changed the World. (Boston: Faber & Faber, 1995)
dance was a solo entitled La Cachucha, inspired by Spanish p. 60.
dancers she had seen in Paris. It remained her most popular 46. Dawson, p. 61.
dance throughout her career. Essler was never married but 47. Dawson, p. 117.
had two children. She died in 1884, and was mourned by all 48. Bruce Becker, Penn State Daily Collegian, April 30,
Vienna. Taglioni died the same year in Marseilles. Her pass- 1979, p. 13, quoting Rod Fizz.
ing went virtually unnoticed. 49. Wagner, p. 348.
32. Wagner, p. 141, quoting H. W. Beecher’s Lectures to
Young Men on Various Important Subjects (Cincinnati: Wm.
H. Moore, and Asalem: John P Jewett, 1846) p. 248.
33. Wagner, 152, quoting William S. Potts, A Sermon on
Certain Popular Amusements of the Day (St. Louis: Keith and
Chapter 2
Woods, 1848.) 1. Desmond F. Strobel, “Waltz.” In International Ency-
34. Wagner, p. 120, quoting A Few Reflections upon the clopedia of Dance. Vol. 6. Ed. Selma Jeanne Cohen, p.
Fancy Ball, Otherwise Known as the City Dancing Assembly 359–362. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998) p.359.
(Philadelphia: G. R. Lilibridge, 1828) p. 3–4. In his book The 2. Lloyd Shaw in The Round Dance Book; A Century of
Dance of Modern Society. (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1892), Waltzing, p. 101, suggests that the waltz’s roots should be
p 39, William Cleaver Wilkinson also accused dance of being traced to Spain. He states, “...our modern waltz did develop
anti–American. He wrote, “...the dance being such has con- from European modifications of an old step of the
tributed to the creation of that meretricious taste in dress Basques....” In the web article “Opus No. 3/4 on the Origins
which seriously threatens, through its direct and indirect eco- and Early History of the Waltz,” July 1998, Kim Mallet men-
nomic influence, to corrupt and deteriorate the very basis of tions that the French guillotine dance, the Carmagnole, was
our American society.” also one of the waltz’s antecedents. In his anti-dance book
35. Professor T. A Faulkner was a former dancing master The Lure of the Dance: with Christ at the Ball. (Chicago:
who gave up his profession to teach the world about the evils George W. Noble, 1916), p. 18, T. A Faulkner explains that the
of dancing. His book From the Ballroom to Hell became a clas- waltz originated with a French dancing master named Gault
sic among the anti-dance literature genre and was frequently in 1632. Faulkner writes, “He was licentious in the deepest
cited by other writers. In another of his books, The Lure of sense of the word, and gloried in the fact that he had led many
the Dance: with Christ at the Ball. (Chicago: George W. Noble, girls into lives of sin and shame. He had gone down so low
1916), in the dedication and on p. 9, Faulkner explains his in the moral scale that, finally, in an attempt to ruin his own
change of heart in two different stories. In the first, he says sister he strangled her to death, for which he was guillotined
he stopped teaching dance after his eighteen-year old sister in 1632.”
Ada, “a victim of dance-hall lust,” said on her deathbed, 3. The word volta was used in both Italian (volta— to
“Sound the Warning, Tom, that other girls may be saved.” turn) and French (volte, voltare —to turn) as part of the tech-
Faulkner states that in obedience to her dying wish, he nical terminology of escrime (fencing), meaning to leap aside
renounced the teaching of dancing and went on a mission to to avoid a thrust, in dressage (horsemanship), meaning the
save other maidens from its horrible effects. In another ver- gait of a horse moving sideways then turning around a cen-
sion, Faulkner states that he ran into a former student of his ter, as well as in dancing. In her dance manual The Dance,
who was “on her way to destruction,” and he pleaded with Ancient and Modern (1900) p. 26, Arabella E. Moore says the
her to return home. The woman turned on him and lashed word “volta” is derived from the word voltiger meaning “to
out at him, saying, “Mr. Faulkner, when you close your danc- flutter.” Ms. Moores writes, “as one seems to do in the waltz,
ing school and stop the business which is sending so many where the movements of the butterfly are imitated....” Dur-
girls by swift stages on the straight road to Hell, girls who ing the Renaissance, the term was used to refer to any turn-
were pure and innocent when they entered your (and other) ing couple dance. The word first appeared in dance manuals
dance halls, then sir, and not until then, have you the right in Italy sometime in the 15th century. Although usually asso-
to ask me to reform, as you are doing, for your dancing school ciated with France and Italy, the volta was also popular in
was the cause of my downfall — and mother was equally to other parts of Europe. Engravings show it in Westphalia as
blame, for she took me there.” According to Faulkner, this early as 1538. The volta is similar to another partner dance
event sparked in him a conversion experience and he real- that was popular in France and Italy called la nizzarda, or the
ized that as a dancing master, he really was nothing more “The Girl from Nice,” (also known as “The Dance of Nice.”)
than the “Devil’s Advance Agent,” as he put it. Performed at court beginning in the fourteenth century up
36. T. A. Faulkner, From the Ballroom to Hell. (Chicago: through the sixteenth century, this energetic dance is
R. B. McKnight, 1894) p. 22. described in Cesare Negri’s important dance manual, Le gratie
37. Faulkner, p. 47. d’amore (1602) reissued two years later as Nuove inventioni
38. T. A. Faulkner, The Lure of the Dance: with Christ at di balli. Although the partners performing la nizzarda also
the Ball. (Chicago: George W. Noble, 1916) pp. 60–61, quot- danced in a closed embrace, according to Negri’s vague expla-
ing Dr. Frank C Richardson. nation of the dance, the turns were done with low hops and
39. Ernest Bell, Fighting the Traffic in Young Girls or War did not involve the high lift that characterized the volta. Later
188 Notes — Chapter 2

descriptions do mention high lifts and greatly resemble the in Dijon, France around 1519 or 1520. His given name,
volta described by Negri’s contemporary Thoinot Arbeau. Tabourot, is related to the word “tabor” and suggests that his
Some dance scholars believe the two dances are one and the family may have had something to do with drumming.
same. Arbeau studied in Dijon, Poitiers, and possibly Paris even-
4. Paul Nettl, The Story of Dance Music. (New York : tually becoming the treasurer of the Chapter of Langres in
Philosophical Library, 1947) p. 101, suggests that the root of 1542, and finally the vicar-general of the diocese. He wrote
the word “galliard” is galleus meaning “a gall-apple,” which Orchésocraphie (Orchesography) at a time in history when
in turn indicates “in full bloom.” The more common asso- religious dances were being re-introduced into the church
ciation was with the word “gay.” Shaw, p. 102, states that the and social dancing was growing in popularity following the
word “galliard” was used as an adjective such as in the phrase Ballet Comique de la Reine. Arbeau completed the writing of
“Let’s be galliard and brisk.” Orchésocraphie at the age of sixty-nine and died the same
5. The pavane (pavan, paven, pavin) Ital. Pavana, year. The manuscript was discovered among his papers after
padovana, Fr., pavane, Ger., paduana, was a solemn, ceremo- his death and was published posthumously with permission
nial procession used to open a ball or accompany the entrance from his family. His treatise on the dance remains one of the
of the king. Many dance scholars suggest that the word most detailed and important records of sixteenth century
“pavane” was derived from the Spanish word pavón (or Latin dance. According to Troy and Margaret Kinney, The Dance:
pavo) meaning “peacock,” and that the dance’s slow, stately Its Place in Art and Life. (New York : Tudor, 1936) p. 31,
movements were choreographed so that the courtier with his Arbeau commented on those who opposed dancing by
sword and robe and his partner with her long train could remarking:
strut proudly like peacocks and show off all their fine regalia. We practice such merry-making on days of wedding
One circular pattern in the dance also resembled the spread- celebrations, and of the solemnities of the feast of
ing of a peacock’s tail. W. G. Raffé (Dictionary of Dance, p. our Church, even though reformers abhor such
375) says this derivation is incorrect and the name of the things; but in this matter they deserve to be treated
dance springs from pavi-ment which means “path” or “way” like some hind-quarter of goat put into dough with-
or pavimentum or “pavement.” Other sources state that out lard.
“pavane” is probably derived from the name of the town of
Padua, Italy. According to Troy and Margaret Kinney in The (Dough baked without lard hardens to the consistency of
Dance: Its Place in Art and Life. (New York: Tudor, 1936) p. concrete.)
56, the pavane was introduced by conquistador Hernando 11. Arbeau, p. 122. On p.121 of the same translation,
Cortez (1485–1547), who learned the dance in America, and Arbeau states,
brought it back to the Spanish court. The form of the pavane ... after having spun around for as many cadences as
was utilized in the Grand March that began all formal balls you wish return the damsel to her place, when, how-
in the nineteenth century, and today, parts of the ancient ever brave a face she shows, she will feel her brain
dance are still apparent when a bride walks down the aisle in reeling and her head full of dizzy whirlings; and you
all her finery. yourself will perhaps be no better off. I leave you to
6. When the caper was executed properly, the woman judge whether it is a becoming thing for a young girl
could spring into the air to surprising heights with the aid to take large strides and separations of the legs, and
of the man. The movement created a certain syncopation, whether in this lavolta both honour and health are
with the lift beginning with a preparation on count four, the not involved and at stake.
lady airborne on count five, and the lady landing on the “and” 12. Eduard Reeser, The History of the Waltz, (London: Sid-
count before six. The rhythm is easily understood if one sings wick and Jackson, nd.) pp.4–5, quoting Johan von Münster’s
the opening line of “My Country “Tis of Thee.” or “God Save Gottseliger Tractat von dem ungottseligen Tantz, 1592.
the Queen.” In the galliard, the caper, or cabriole, was an 13. Reeser, quoting Johann Praetorius’ Blocksberg-Verrich-
opportunity for the male dancer to demonstrate his athleti- tungen, 1668, p. 5–6. Julia Sutton in the International Ency-
cism with leg beats. Shakespeare mentions the caper in his clopedia of Dance. Vol. 6. (New York: Oxford University Press,
play Twelfth Night when the character of Sir Tobey is asked 1998) p. 349–51, quotes Guillaume Bouchet, from his book
about his ability to dance a galliard. He responds, “I can cut Les Serées (1597) with almost the identical words;
a caper.”
7. The Cinque-pace or Cinq-pas was derived from fenc- The volta [and] the courante ... which magicians have
ing positions. The five steps consisted of: brought from Italy to France, besides their rude and
bold movements, have the misfortune of causing an
(a) droite, a straight move forward or back infinite number of murders and miscarriages, killing
(b) ouvert, opening sideways and destroying all who are yet unborn.
(c) ronde, sweeping the foot on the floor
14. Lloyd Shaw, The Round Dance Book: A Century of
(d) glissé, sliding the foot as in a glissade.
Waltzing. (Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Printers, 1948) p.104.
(e) tournée, turning.
15. Allison Thompson, Dancing Through Time: Western
Other moves were added later including jumps and beats. Social Dance in Literature, 1400–1918: Selections. (Jefferson,
The dance ended with la salute, a bow similar to the NC: McFarland, 1998) p. 11.
révérence. 16. Thompson, p. 11.
8. Shaw, p. 103, relates that fifty-six year old Queen Eliz- 17. Joan Lawson, European Folk Dance. (London: Sir Isaac
abeth “took her morning exercise by dancing six or seven gal- Pittman & Sons, 1953) p. 14, states that true couple dancing
liards as soon as she arose.” The queen is reputed to have still did not develop until the creation of the Provençal courts
been able to dance a lusty galliard at age seventy. Fond of all during the eleventh and twelfth centuries when the Provence
types of dancing, Queen Elizabeth is also reputed to have area in southern France became an important center of cul-
based her political favors on a courtier’s ability to perform ture. It was here that the troubadours, aristocratic poet-musi-
well in the pavane (Eng. pavin), rather than based upon his cians, developed the idea of romantic courtly love from a
statesmanship. She frequently asked the members of her mixture of Latin, Arabic and Christian sources. Adopting the
court point-blank who was the better dancer, her rival, Mary sensuality of Arabic poetry from the Muslim courts of
Queen of Scots, or their own monarch. Andalusia and mixing it with the veneration of the Virgin
9. Arbeau, Thoinot, Orchesography. Translated by Mary Mary, these entertainers established the code of chivalry in
Stewart Evans. (New York: Dover Publications, 1967) p.121. which a knight offered humble, steadfast service to his lady
10. Thoinot Arbeau, an anagram for the author’s real even if that lady was unattainable. This concept of “loving
name, Jehan Tabourot, was born into a distinguished family from a distance,” with no suggestion of infidelity, helped to
Notes—Chapter 2 189

preserve decorum and at the same time heighten the roman- not impulse. To dance the minuet is to pay homage
tic aspects. Called fin amor, or true love, this concept became to the woman.
an important theme that was carried through in literature,
language, music, and in the development of new dance forms, 18. The Provençal troubadours were a literary commu-
eventually spreading through Europe and influencing cul- nity of wealthy aristocrats who wrote their poetry in a
ture for centuries. Lawson points out that the ideal of fin unique, medieval, southern French dialect called langue d’oc.
amor fostered the development of a strict code of social Langue d’oc, which literally means “the language of yes,” a
behavior. This in turn promoted the refinement of peasant reference to how the people of the region said “yes” (oc), had
dance movements that were appropriated by the aristocracy. evolved from spoken Latin, and became the language with
She writes, which troubadours created their innovative court poetry. The
word “troubadour” is derived from the Provençal word tro-
For example, the man’s forward thrust of the body
bar, “to find.” These men were primarily interested in their
and his embracing and carrying off the woman
literary pursuits and they relied upon assistants to perform
became the dignified kneeling before the lady of his
their works. These assistants, known as jongleurs, were itin-
choice, and the delicate giving of hands as he led her
erant entertainers who juggled, sang, told stories, and
down the room; or the girl’s violent gesture of
attached themselves to troubadours at various courts. Dur-
repulse and attempt to escape became the admonish-
ing the fourteenth century these jongleurs formed brother-
ing shake of the finger and a shy turn of the head;
hoods and began to adopt the name ménétrier, and later
and the triumphant flinging of the girl in the fertility
ménestrel, to denote a higher social class. It is from these
leap became the dainty twist under the man’s arm.
words that the word “minstrel” is derived. In Northern
The concept of correct social behavior as expressed through France, troubadours were called trouvères and in Germany,
the dance became a crucial aspect within the development they were known as minnesingers. German minnesingers
of ballroom dancing. As ballroom dancing was being formu- began by imitating the Provençal troubadours, but during
lated, proper etiquette and correct manners were as impor- the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, they expanded the
tant as the ability to dance well. It is possible to trace the art form and developed an original German style of courtly
connection between dancing and courtesy to practices that love poetry. Wagner’s opera Tannhäusser is based upon the
developed in the Provençal courts during the medieval minnesinger tradition.
period. In Joseph Campbell: The Power of Myth with Bill Moy- 19. The Albigensian Crusade was a brutal, bloody war that
ers. Ed. Betty Sue Flowers. (New York: Doubleday, 1988) p. lasted from about 1203 to 1229. The Crusade was called by
193, Campbell points out that one of the five virtues of Pope Innocent III, who wanted to eradicate a religious group
medieval knighthood was courtesy. Campbell states, that lived in south central France called the Cathars (or
Cathari). The pope believed the group posed a threat to the
And the medieval idea, in spite of the fact that these Church’s authority. The Crusade began as a war against heresy
people were in protest against the ecclesiastical but evolved into a struggle for political and economic gain for
authorities, was respect for the society in which they an ambitious papacy. The Cathars held a dualistic view of the
were participating. Everything was done according to universe, believing in the coexistence of God, who ruled the
the rules. When two knights fought, they did not spiritual realm, and Satan, who ruled the realm of the flesh,
violate the rules of combat although they were both entities being of equal power. Because of this belief,
engaged in mortal combat. This courtesy has to be members of the sect believed that the most grievous sin was
held in mind. to perpetrate the world of the flesh or Satan. Therefore,
Campbell relates how these rules of courtesy were equally Cathars abstained from sex and ate no food that was produced
important in regards to women. by sex, such as meat or eggs. One peculiar practice of the sect
was suicide, often by starvation, to hasten the release from the
It was a very strange period because it was terribly evilness of the flesh. Members cultivated an aesthetic lifestyle
brutal. There was no central law. Everyone was on his and rejected the traditional priesthood and sacraments of the
own, and, of course, there were great violations of Catholic Church. They rejected prayer and viewed the ven-
everything. But within this brutality, there was civi- eration of holy images as useless. The Cathar church devel-
lizing force, which the women really represented oped its own liturgy and elected its own bishops and deacons,
because they were the ones who established the rules believing that their religion was the only true Christian faith.
for this game. And the men had to play it according After several futile attempts to root out the Cathars by send-
to the requirements of the women. ing various papal legates to the region to convert the heretics,
The correct treatment of women permeated various social Pope Innocent III finally ordered the use of force when one of
dance forms, not only as demonstrated in the volta, but his representatives was assassinated. The pope offered indul-
also later in the minuet. In his book The Social Dances of gences for any willing to fight for his cause and promised to
the Nineteenth Century in England, (London, Herbert Jenk- offer the lands of the conquered Cathars to the victors. Many
ins, 1960) p. 41, Philip J. S. Richardson states that the knights rushed to join the crusade in hopes of gaining wealth.
minuet was, “...originally a mid–seventeenth-century The war became known as the Albigensian Crusade after the
attempt to symbolize the chivalry of the Middle Ages and town of Albi that was a center of the Cathar movement. At
to revive the ideology of the Troubadours and Min- the height of the Crusade, hundreds of Cathars were burned
nesingers....” The concept of “loving from a distance” in the at the stake. Although the major part of the Crusade ended
minuet was also briefly explored by Ruth Katz in her article around 1229 with the Peace of Paris, sporadic fighting con-
“The Egalitarian Waltz.” In Comparative Studies in Society tinued until 1255. Concern about the spread of Albigensian-
and History. (June 1973. Katz points out that the geometric ism and the Cathar sect led to the creation of the medieval
uniformity and formality of the minuet did not allow for Inquisition which specifically targeted the sect until 1279, con-
individual expression and therefore kept dancers at a dis- tinuing the practice in special tribunals even after that date.
tance. She adds, “The hoop skirt symbolized additional 20. In 1533, Catherine de Medici married the duc d’Or-
restraint and ‘distance.’” (p. 173) In his book World History leans when both were fourteen-years-old. The duc d’Orleans,
of the Dance. (New York: W.W. Norton, 1937) pp. 398–99, who later became Henri II, King of France, began a relation-
Curt Sachs comments, ship with a thirty-five year old widow named Diane de
Poitiers, (also known as Madame de Valentinois, or Duchesse
[T]he erotic is stylized to the last degree, everything de Valentinois) one year after his marriage. Valentinois
is suggested, refined, and generalized to the point of became the king’s confidante and wielded considerable
formalism. Eros here is devotion, not love; discipline, influence at court for twenty-five years, even signing official
190 Notes — Chapter 2

court documents. Arabella E. Moore, in her book The dance, Ruolieb’s description of the male dancer’s wooing and the
ancient and modern, translated from the French. (Philadel- female dancer’s eluding of his advances is evocative of the
phia: 1900) p. 26, wrote, “Madame de Valentinois, in the time way the ländler is still danced in remote mountainous regions
of Francis the first, was very fond of this dance [the volta], of Germany today. Paul Nettl, The Story of Dance Music. (New
and while dancing it sang the psalms translated by Clement York: Philosophical Library, 1947), p. 51, states that “Rudlieb”
Marot.” (Francis I was Henri II’s father.) Catherine de Medici (Ruolieb) was the name of the poem, not the name of the
was largely ignored during the reign of her husband and his author. Nettl relates that the poem follows the adventures of
successor, her eldest son Francis II. She gained prominence the hero Rudlieb as he visits a widow with a beautiful daugh-
by assuming the role of regent for her second son Charles IX ter. Two harpists perform poorly during his visit, so Rudlieb
when he ascended the throne in 1560. She acted as Charles’ asks the widow if she has a harp he can borrow to demon-
advisor until his death in 1574. It was during reign of her strate his ability on the instrument. He plays three songs,
third son, Henry III that the Italian dance, la volta became then is asked to play a reel. As he plays the dance music, a
most popular. Catherine de Medici’s influence upon the couple performs and Rudlieb describes their movements.
world of dance reached its zenith when the queen mother Nettl points out that the poem was written in Southern Ger-
commissioned a spectacle to climax a two-week celebration many, “the home of the peasant dance, ‘Laendler’ and of the
honoring the marriage of Henry III’s court favorite, the duc Waltz.”
de Joyeuse to the queen’s sister, Marguerite de Lorraine, 25. Originally, ländler melodies were rhythmical work
daughter of Nicholas de Vaudemont. The royal entertain- songs that accompanied sowing, reaping, hunting, or other
ment was called Le Ballet Comique de la Reine (or Le Balet types of manual labor, such as that done by sailors or black-
Comique de La Royne). This event is considered by most smiths. Although the schuhplatter is based upon animal
dance scholars to be the first ballet. The spectacle lasted five movements, certain rhythms and movements in the dance
hours and cost an estimated six hundred thousand to one probably also developed as stylized versions of these work-
million dollars. The performance was a mixture of mythol- based movements.
ogy, politics, and Old Testament tales presented in music, 26. In her book Dances of Austria, (New York: Chanticleer
poetry, and dance called the Ballet of Circe. The revels were Press, 1948) p. 8, Katherina Breuer writes, “The Ländler is
presented at the Louvre and featured elaborate costumes and thought to originate from a medieval Round dance. This, in
scenic designs as well as special effects. It was choreographed its journey through the centuries, became a Pair dance in
by an Italian violinist named Baltazarini di Belgiojoso, who which the man leads the girl with complicated turns and
took the French name Balthazar de Beaujoyeulx. Beaujoyeulx twists to the final reunion of the pair in slow Waltz step.”
became Catherine’s valet de chamber and was responsible for 27. Reeser, p. 6, quoting Sebastian Brant, Das Narrenschiff,
staging her court entertainments. The ballet was presented chapter 61: “Von Dantzen,” 1494.
on October 15, 1581 and was documented in a published work 28. Martin Luthur himself indicated that dancing was per-
a few months later in the following year, indicating the spec- missible as long as it was done modestly. He said that the sins
tacle’s political and artistic importance at the time. These associated with dancing were not inherent in the dance itself
published notes on the choreography, along with the music but rather born out of the “disorderly appetites of the
and libretto were sent to every court and became the model dancers” Resser, p. 7.
for many other court entertainments in Europe. 29. Resser, p. 7, quoting Melchior Ambach, Von Tantzen/
21. Curt Sachs, World History of the Dance. (New York: Vrtheil/ Ausz heilger Schrifft und den alten Christlichen Lerern
W.W. Norton, 1937) p. 351. gestalt, 1543.
22. Sachs, p. 352. Sachs also makes an interesting obser- 30. Reeser, p. 7–8, quoting Florian Daule von Fürsten-
vation about the use of 3/4 rhythms in primitive cultures. On berg, Tantzteuffel d.i. wiver den leichtfertigen unverschempten
p. 194 he writes, Welttanz und sonderlich wider die Gotts Zucht und
ehrvergessene Nachtenze, 1567.
[I]t is noteworthy that also in the cosmological con-
31. Resser, pp.10–12, quoting Böhme, Geschichte des
cepts of these [primitive native] peoples the contrast
Tanzes in Deutschland, 1686, stating a prohibition recorded
between even and odd numbers is prominent.
in the Amberber Stadtbuch of 1554.
Among matriarchal, agricultural, moon-worshipping
32. Kim Mallet, “Opus No. 3/4 on the Origins and Early
cultures the even numbers are regarded as sacred,
History of the Waltz,” July 1998.
while among the patriarchal, hunter, sun-worship-
ping cultures the uneven numbers are favored — as
33. Paul Nettl, “Birth of the Waltz” in Dance Index, vol.
with rhythm.
5, number 9, November 1946, p. 214.
23. The couple dance version of the schuhplattler was 34. In his book The Social Dances of the Nineteenth Cen-
divided into different sections. The four sections were (a.) tury in England, (London, Herbert Jenkins, 1960) p. 43, Philip
nachsteigen, (b.) einlaufer, (c.) plattler, and (d.) ländler. In J. S. Richardson suggests that the allemande might derive its
the nachsteigen section, the man hissed, clicked his tongue, name from Swabia, which was once known as Alemannia.
and clapped his hands as he leaped and somersaulted around He quotes Thomas Wilson who wrote in 1816, “Waltzing is
his female partner in a display of technical virtuosity. The a species of dancing that owes its origin to the Germans, hav-
style of the dance was exaggerated; the man’s body was kept ing been introduced in Swabia, one of the nine circles of Ger-
erect so that the knees and feet had to be lifted up high to be many.” Nigel Allenby Jaffé. Folk Dances of Europe. (North
hit by the hands. Arms were swung so that they flapped like Yorkshire, England: Folk Dance Enterprises, 1990) p. 156,
wings. In the traditional form einlaufer, the dancer first hit suggests that various versions of the allemand traveled to
the right thigh with the right hand, then the left with the left. France quite early through trade links. On p. 158, he states
This was repeated and then followed by hitting either foot that the dance “was introduced into the royal court in Ver-
with the right hand. Then, the left foot was hit once more sailles when Alsace was incorporated into the French king-
with the left hand. During plattler, the man slapped his body dom.”
continuously as his female partner spun around. The man 35. Rebecca Harris-Warrick, “Allemande” In International
was rewarded for his attentions to the woman in the last sec- Encyclopedia of Dance. Vol. 1. Ed. Selma Jeanne Cohen, (New
tion of the schuhplattler, the ländler. According to Sachs, p. York: Oxford University Press, 1998) p. 47, quoting Giovanni
221, there were some versions of the ländler in which the per- Gallini, 1762.
formers competed by balancing beakers of liquid on their 36. Raffé, p. 21, states that the source of the allemande was
heads while dancing. an alms-giving ceremonial rite performed on Maundy Thurs-
24. Nigel Allenby Jaffé. Folk Dances of Europe. (North day by clerics. He traces this clerical rite even further back
Yorkshire, England: Folk Dance Enterprises, 1990) p. 148. to two root sources; the first, an Iberian-Arabic source ref-
Notes—Chapter 2 191

erenced in the Quaran, Chapter 107 entitled Al-Ma’Un, importance of Playford’s manual in the development of social
meaning “the Alms.” This reference proscribed the regular dancing cannot be stressed enough. The effect of codifying
collection of alms and is the etymology of the word and naming rural dances not only made them marketable
“alimony.” The second source was Sufi in origin and had to to a wide audience, but also spurred a whole flurry of
do with praying for “alms from Allah.” Raffé states that the dance manuals that helped to further disseminate various
prophet Mohammed was called Al-Min meaning the “Faith- dances.
ful” or “True One.” Muslim pilgrims would circle the Ka- 43. Contre-dance (contredanse, contra-dance) did not draw
aba, the sacred stone at Mecca, seven times and chant its name from country dancing. Rather, the term referred to
ninety-nine of the “Hundred Names of Allah.” Al-Min and couples or quartets dancing in opposition or counter to each
other forms of Allah’s many names became the source of the other, in figures such as two facing lines, as in the reel or
word “allemande,” as well as other words such as “alumnus,” longways, or in a square, as in the quadrille. Contre-dances
“alma mater,” and “almond.” In a reference in Chaucer, featured active and inactive couples. The active couple started
another derivative was leman, or “dance partner.” Paul Nettl, at the end of the column (or on one particular side of the square
The Story of Dance Music. (New York: Philosophical Library, in a quadrille) and was the couple that did the most move-
1947), p. 107 states that the allemande movements were prob- ment, progressing through various patterns until they even-
ably derived from pantomimic actions founded on primitive tually reached the opposite end of the column. Inactive couples
Germanic themes of jealousy and the kidnapping of a bride. moved up one position at a time until each one arrived at the
He suggests that these themes are indicated when men cut in head of the line and became the active couple. Although con-
and stole partners. tre-dances emphasized relationships between the various
37. A version of the allemande which utilized tours de dancers, they still did not allow for the intimacy inherent in
mains, or “turns of the hands” was danced in France as early the waltz when partners danced as an isolated unit.
as the reign of Louis XIV, who was king from 1643–1715. By 44. Emphasis on rank and status was all consuming in
the 1760’s, it was so popular in France that even though it was French court dancing during the seventeenth and eighteenth
of German origin, it was virtually adopted as the French centuries. One’s place on the dance floor was determined by
national dance. one’s position at court in relationship to the king. Rigorous
38. According to Paul Nettl, “Birth of the Waltz,” p. 214, training with a dancing master and meticulous attention to
“In colloquial German, walzen means strolchen (stamping), proper etiquette and the prescribed protocol was strictly reg-
but can also signify schleifen (sliding or gliding). “Nigel imented. A misstep could lead to a loss of favor and there-
Allenby Jaffé. Folk Dances of Europe. (North Yorkshire, fore, a loss of one’s place in the hierarchy. Describing one
England: Folk Dance Enterprises, 1990), p. 159, states that a ball at Versailles in 1775, Horace Walpole explained how even
ban of the ländler in 1748 contains the first reference to the Marie Antoinette made sure to execute the elaborate figures
word “walzen,” and was used to describe turning or rolling and patterns of the minuet without turning her back to her
movements. According to Andrew Lamb in his article husband, King Louis XVI, when he decided not to dance that
“Waltz” from The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musi- evening. Status was so important in the court at Versailles that
cians. Vol. 20. Ed. Stanley Sadie, (London: McMillan, 1980) every opportunity was taken to assert one’s rank. This obses-
p. 200, the earliest known example of music associated with sion with pedigree was even demonstrated in the practice of
the word wälzen is in a comedy by Felix Kurz entitled Ste- attending chapel. During services both dukes and princes
greifkomödie Der auf das neue begeisterte und belebte Bernar- could kneel on cushions, but only Princes of the Blood could
don (The Newly Revived and Inspired Bernardon) from 1754. place the cushions at a straight angle on the floor.
In this piece, there is reference to various styles of dancing 45. The exclusivity of the minuet was fostered in various
with mention of the word wälzen and accompanying music, ways. In addition to the proscribed social hierarchy that
assumed to have been written by Joseph Hayden, in triple strictly dictated who could join the dance, participation in
time. Lamb states that the word was first used in written form the minuet also required formal training in order to master
as the name of a dance in a booklet by C, von Zangen enti- the intricate steps and complex social graces that played an
tled Etwas über das Walzen in 1782. Resser, p. 1 says that the integral part of the display. Since only the wealthy could
word wälzen was first found in print in Schiller’s war-song afford to hire dancing masters to train them in the art, those
Graf Eberhard der Greiner von Wirtemberg, part of the book, that danced the minuet were limited to the privileged few. A
Anthologie auf das Jahr, which he mistakenly lists as pub- proper and pleasing physique was also required of those that
lished in 1882. Schiller’s poem was actually published in 1782. wished to dance the minuet. In the book Revolving Embrace:
39. Despite the popularity of German folk dance at court, The Waltz as Sex, Steps, and Sound. (Hillsdale, NY: Pendragon
the waltz sometimes elicited negative responses. When the Press, 2002), p. 2, Sevin H. Yaraman writes,
two Princesses of Mecklenburg first dared to do the dance at
“Well shaped,” “undeformed,” and “well-propor-
a court ball in 1794, the King was enchanted, but the Queen
tioned” persons were encouraged to dance; those
turned her face away in disgust and forbade her own daugh-
with “natural defects” were advised not to take part
ters from doing the immoral dance. The Queen’s ban on the
in court dancing of any sort. Indeed, it was consid-
waltz remained in effect at the Berlin Court until the reign
ered absurd for people with “weak loins” or “very
of William II around 1888.
long arms” to attempt the minuet: “they are sure of
40. Mosco Carner, The Waltz. (New York : Chanticleer
being either laughed at, or pitied as idiots; instead of
Press, 1948) p. 14.
pleasure, it must be attended with the utmost anxi-
41. One such folk tune, “Auch, du lieber Augustin,” that
ety; as soon as they hear the tittering of the room, or
has survived until today, is perhaps one of the earliest exam-
happen to be out in respect to the dance.”
ples of a waltz.
42. John Playford (the Elder) was born in Norwich, English contre-dancing marked a turning away from the seg-
England, in 1623, and made his living as a publisher of music regated world of the minuet by democratizing social danc-
and dance books. He began collecting country dance tunes ing. Because it encouraged self-expression and informality,
with instructions about how to perform the accompanying participation in the dance was opened to all.
dances, and published his first manual of 105 dances in 1651. 46. English country dances were eventually corrupted by
Entitled The Dancing Master, or Plaine and Easie Rules for the dancing masters who began to embellish them with techni-
Dancing of Country Dances, with the Tune to Each Dance, the cal flourishes and more ornate steps taken from court dance.
book’s enormous popularity led to seventeen subsequent edi- Although some of these changes did not affect the original
tions. After the first edition, Playford shortened the title to character of the dance, the simplicity of many figures was
The Dancing Master and added new dances. By the eighteenth lost. Society turned to other rural sources such as German
edition the book contained more than 1,400 dances. The dancing to recapture the naturalness of folk dancing.
192 Notes — Chapter 3

47. Lamb, p. 201, quoting J. H Katfuss, Taschenbuch für March 1, 1815, while the Vienna Congress was meeting to
Freunde und Freundinnen des Tanzes (1800). reorder a Europe that had been devastated by Napoleon’s
48. Nettl, pp. 219–220, points out that in Mozart’s opera campaigns, the deposed monarch escaped from Elba,
Don Giovanni this aspect of the waltz is emphasized when marched northward, and rallied a huge force behind him,
Masetto and Leporello dance the Deutschen. “...the two men attempting to reconstruct his empire. In June of that year,
of the servant class symbolize the democratic principle, for his armies were crushed at Waterloo by allied forces under
in the waltz everyone can choose with who he wishes to the command of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington.
walzen. A man can even walzen with a man.... Here we have Napoleon surrendered and was shipped to the island of St.
a new and liberal philosophy of mankind where freedom in Helena where he was held prisoner. After a long battle with
the choice of partner, and freedom of movement go hand in cancer, he died there on May 1, 1821.
hand with the ‘Freedom of Will.’” After the annulment of his marriage to Josephine,
49. Carner, p. 10. Napoleon himself took lessons in waltzing in order to impress
50. Lamb, p. 201. his new fiancé Marie Louise, the daughter of the Austrian
51. Sachs, p. 432. Emperor, Francis I, host of the Vienna Congress.
10. The gathering given by the Czar’s mistress, Princess
Bagration, on October 1, 1814, provides a perfect example of
how balls and entertainments were rife with political
Chapter 3 intrigue. After only two dances, Czar Alexander I approached
Prince Hardenberg, the Prussian chancellor, to speak with
1. William H. Harris, and Judith S. Levey, editors, him. The chancellor was hard of hearing, so the Czar took
“Romanticism.” In The New Columbia Encyclopedia, (New him to the hostess’s private boudoir. The English, Austrian,
York: Columbia University Press, 1975.) pp. 2349–2350. and French diplomats, who were also attending the soiree,
2. Ruth Katz, “The Egalitarian Waltz,” In Comparative immediately met to discuss plans to deal with this troubling
Studies in Society and History. (New York: Cambridge Uni- development. They wanted to avoid a united Russo-Pruss-
versity Press, June 1973) pp. 176–7. ian front during negotiations at all costs. Furthermore, the
3. Allison Thompson, Dancing Through Time: Western diplomats noticed that for the entire evening, the Czar
Social Dance in Literature, 1400–1918: Selections. (Jefferson, refused to speak to Prince Adam Czartoryski, the advisor
NC: McFarland, 1998) p. 115. from Poland, an ominous signal to those hoping for an inde-
4. Thompson, p. 115, quoting Wilson, The Address; or, pendent Polish state. With all the intrigue, the Czar still
An Essay on Deportment. (London: printed by the Author, found plenty of time to waltz. Records state that he danced
1821) p. 13. until four that morning.
5. A cultural revitalization movement began in Germany 11. The masked ball given at the Hof burg palace by the
during the last half of the eighteenth century ignited by the Austrian Emperor and his wife was held on October 2, 1814.
teachings of philosopher Johann Gottfried von Herder. The theme was red and gold, and the palace was draped with
Herder’s teachings idealized the pure, natural, unaffected lush tapestries and hangings. All the guests wore elaborate
spirit of the common man and promoted a return to native costumes, and women were required to remain masked until
customs, traditions, and language as embodied in das Volk midnight, at which time they could remove their disguises
(the folk). These concepts sparked a growing trend towards and reveal their identities. The ball opened with a polonaise.
nationalism in Germany and eventually spread across the The Russian Czar led the dance with Maria Ludovica, Empress
European Continent to England where they were mixed with of Austria. The list of ten thousand invited guests was aug-
the aesthetics of the Romantic Movement. Nineteenth cen- mented by several gate crashers who bribed the doormen to
tury intellectuals appropriated Herder’s philosophy and get in to the event. These uninvited guests helped themselves
embraced the idea of nationalism, seeing the return to an to more than the rich food and drink. Three thousand silver
uncorrupted national culture as a remedy to the uncertain- spoons were stolen that evening. In her book, The Congress
ties that had resulted from the turbulent social transforma- Dances, p. 126, Susan Mary Alsop includes a description of the
tions that occurred after the French Revolution. Romantic ball given by the Comte Auguste de La Garde-Chambonas;
nationalism was especially strong in England and led to the
The continuous music, the mystery of the disguises,
rediscovery of country folk dances.
the intrigues with which I was surrounded, the gen-
6. Katz, p. 178.
eral incognito, the unbridled gaiety, the combination
7. Katz, p. 174.
of circumstances and of seductions, in a word the
8. The purpose of the Vienna Congress was the reorder-
magic of the whole vast tableau, turned my head,
ing of Europe after the downfall of Napoleon I. The major
older and stronger heads than mine found it equally
players in the negotiations were Emperor Francis I of Aus-
tria, who hosted the event, his chief negotiator, Prince Fürst
von Metternich, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Péigord of Negotiations, political maneuverings, and the waltz all played
France, Lord Castlereagh of England, (and for a while his their parts that evening. At the end of the festivities, the
brother, the Duke of Wellington,) Czar Alexander I of Rus- exhausted Empress of Austria, who suffered from consump-
sia, and King Frederick William III of Prussia. Each of these tion, had to be carried to her bedchambers. Her husband,
men, along with several representatives from other European Emperor Francis I, was heard to remark, “If this goes on I shall
countries participated in the negotiations that were fre- abdicate. I can’t stand this life much longer” (Alsop, p. 127).
quently held during nightly dances. Alexander I was passion- 12. During the Congress, the citizens of Vienna gave their
ately fond of dancing. A vain man with an eye for the ladies, Emperor, Francis I, the nickname “He who pays for every-
he used to rub his face with a block of ice every morning to thing.” Yet, despite raising their taxes, they continued to hold
tighten his skin. Tallyrand attended the balls but was unable the monarch in great affection. Their regard for “Papa Franz”
to waltz. He had been dropped as a baby by his wet-nurse, only strengthened when the Emperor ordered his servants to
broken his foot, and was crippled for the rest of his life. set up trestle tables outside the palace after each weekly ball.
9. The nineteenth century began with the rise of All of the leftovers were set out for the poor. Nothing was
Napoleon I (1769–1821) and his ambitious attempts to expand wasted from a half-eaten roll to a piece of orange peel.
the French Empire. Napoleon was defeated in Spain in the 13. The phrase “le Congress ne march pas, il danse,” was
Peninsular Campaign, and faced similar disasters in Russia supposedly coined by Prince Charles de Ligne, who was
that resulted in a humiliating retreat from Moscow. After famous for his bon mots. The elderly Prince died in Decem-
another defeat at Leipzig, he finally surrendered control of ber as the Congress was being held. Apparently he caught
the French government, and retreated into exile to Elba. On pneumonia while waiting outside in the cold for “a midnight
Notes—Chapter 3 193

assignation with a lady.” He was eighty at the time. (Alsop, between the Sperl and its competitor, Dommayer’s Casino,
p. 176) another Vienna dancing palace. The quarrel was not resolved
14. Although the Vienna Congress was perhaps the pri- until Sperl’s and Dommayer’s children married each other.
mary source of the waltz contagion, there were many other 23. This quote is found in several sources. This version
ways in which the dance was dispersed throughout the globe. was taken from Brion, p. 193.
French soldiers, who had been exposed to the waltz in their 24. Even the powerful influence of Johann Strauss, who
travels during the Napoleonic wars, were partially responsi- frequently played at the Tivoli, could not save the pleasure
ble for bringing the German folk dance back to France with gardens from decline. After only four years in business, the
them when they returned home after fighting abroad. Ini- Tivoli was sold in 1834 and turned into a dairy farm.
tially, French opposition to the closed position waltz was 25. Weschberg, p. 167. The premiere of The Blue Danube
strenuous and vocal. In The Social Dances of the Nineteenth was performed by the Vienna Men’s Choral Society, and
Century in England. (London: Herbert Jenkins, 1960), pp. accompanied by the combined orchestras of Josef and Eduard
76–7, P. J. S. Richardson relates how in 1855, Gustave Boul- Strauss. The piece was conducted by Rudolf Weinwurm.
lay attacked the waltz in a booklet entitled Reforme de la danse 26. The Apollo was established by Sigmund Wolffsohn, an
des Salons. entrepreneur who had studied medicine. His other activities
included manufacturing articulated artificial limbs for
Under the First Empire, and I even believe since the
wounded soldiers, creating beauty creams for society ladies,
First Republic, the Waltz was the result of interna-
and inventing a “health bed” made out of inflatable reindeer
tional wars, brought to us from Germany, but it only
skins that was supposed to insure “delightful and amorous
penetrated to the aristocracy after a long wait in the
dreams.” A few years after the heyday of Apollo, the danc-
antechamber before it was allowed into the salon.
ing palace declined in popularity and was bankrupt by 1812.
From the beginning one saw that there was, in this
The citizens of Vienna all scrambled to buy souvenirs from
intimacy between the dancer and his partner, some-
the famous spot, but despite this, Wolffson could not pull
thing too familiar and one felt that this was not suit-
himself out of debt and became totally destitute living on
able for us. In France one thinks more than one acts.
public charity until his death at eighty-five. The Apollo was
15. Eduard Reeser, The History of the Waltz, (London: Sid- bought in 1819 by a confectioner, and in 1831–32 was con-
wick and Jackson, nd.) pp. 22–23, quoting the Journal des verted into a hospital during a cholera epidemic. By 1839, the
Luxus und der Moden, March 1792. building was turned into a soap factory (other sources say a
16. Marcel Brion, Daily Life in the Vienna of Mozart and candle factory). In 1876 the building that had housed the most
Schubert. (New York: Macmillan Company, 1962), p. 187. lavish dance palace in Vienna was destroyed by fire, and the
17. The Mondschein, or “moonshine,” was named after ruins were pulled down.
Margarete Mondschein, who had once owned a brick factory 27. Marcel Brion, Daily Life in the Vienna of Mozart and
on the spot where the dancing palace was later built. As with Schubert. (New York : Macmillan Company, 1962) p. 193,
the Apollo Hall, the ballroom was infamous for attracting quotes Auguste de la Garde’s description of the Apollo:
prostitutes. In an attempt to maintain the decency of the
The interior of the Apollo Palace, which occupied
establishment, police arrested any woman caught soliciting
immense space contained magnificent halls and liv-
on the premises, even if the man she accosted did not object
ing shrubberies as in a garden. From a Turkish pavil-
to her advances. Her punishment was to have her hair cut
ion in glaring colours you could wander into a hut of
short, and then sweep the streets while wearing shackles on
a Laplander. Avenues bordered by fresh lawns
her feet. The punishment was abolished after the women of
planted with numbers of standard roses provided
ill repute turned it into a game, and used their brooms to
variations in the view. And all of this was indoors. In
tease respectable citizens by sweeping dust onto their shoes.
the centre of the dining-hall there towered an immense
The punishment was changed to washing the dirty linens of
rock from which murmurous springs emerged in
hospital patients. After the Mondschein fell out of use as a
tumbling cascades, the waters then colleted in tanks
venue for dancing, it was turned into a piano factory.
full of live fish. All styles of architecture warred with
18. This quote is found in several sources, including
each other in the decoration of these rooms; there
Carner, p. 25, Resser, pp. 24–5, and Wechsberg, p. 51.
was the capricious Moorish style, the pure Greek and
19. In 1701, the building that eventually became the Sperl
the Gothic style with its rich carving.
was the home of the imperial hunter, Johann Georg Sperl-
bauer. A lavish public dance hall and tavern garden were 28. In other sources, the capacity of the Apollo varies from
added to the building by Johann Georg Scherzer, who was 4,000 to 8,000. Marcel Brion in his book Daily Life in the
married to Sperlbauer’s granddaughter. Georg Scherzer Vienna of Mozart and Schubert. (New York: Macmillan Com-
became one of the most prestigious and influential men in pany, 1962), p. 189, states that there was room for 4,000
world of Viennese dancing, serving an elite clientele, and dancers but on opening night, 5,000 were admitted. Those
attracting top musicians such as Strauss and Lanner. (He was that had been denied entrance protested outside and tried to
best man at Joseph Lanner’s wedding.) On September 29, break in. Brion indicates that despite these disturbances, the
1807, he officially opened his establishment to the public. opening went off without a hitch, although the following
Scherzer enforced rigid rules about how the ländler was year, a fight broke out in the cloakroom and several coats
danced in his establishment and gentleman were strictly for- were lost. He also relates how there was confusion from all
bidden to embrace their partners while doing the German the carriages and several patrons had to walk home after their
folk dance. At the time of the Vienna Congress, the Sperl was night of dancing.
considered one of the most elegant, distinguished, and pres- 29. Mosco Carner, The Waltz. (New York : Chanticleer
tigious dancing venues (after the Apollo). In the dining room Press, 1948) p. 18, quoting Michael Kelly, Reminiscences, 1826.
patrons were treated to the famous Sperl baked chicken, the Kelly was a friend of Mozart and the first to sing the role of
house specialty. Johann Strauss I performed there for the last Don Curzio in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro. In his book Rem-
time on September 25, 1849. The Sperl was closed in 1873 iniscences, Kelly himself is less enthusiastic about the waltz.
and the building was torn down. He wrote, “For my own part, I thought waltzing from ten at
20. Joseph Wechsberg, The Waltz Emperors: The Life and night until seven in the morning, a continual whirligig; most
Times and Music of the Strauss Family. (New York: G. P. Put- tiresome to the eye and ear — to say nothing of any worse
nam’s Sons, 1973) p. 45. consequences.”
21. Wechsberg, p. 45, quoting Heinrich Laube, 1833. 30. The cotillion (or cotillon) was the French version of
22. Just as there was a stiff competition between Joseph the contre-danse and consisted of figures performed by four
Lanner and Johann Strauss, there developed a similar rivalry couples who began in a square formation (as opposed to the
194 Notes — Chapter 3

English version that was performed in two facing lines). sion of Russia in 1812, retreat after the Battle of the Nations
Called the contredanse française in France and dubbed the at Leipzig, and eventual abdication after the fall of Paris on
cotillion outside of France, the dance utilized intricate foot- March 31, 1814. This ball took place before Napoleon’s escape
work drawn from ballet and was much more difficult to exe- from Elba and eventual defeat at Waterloo by Wellington.
cute than the typical country dance. It passed out of fashion 34. Gronow, np. From the chapter in his memoirs entitled
after the French Revolution and was replaced with the “Society in London in 1814.”
quadrille, which was actually several cotillion figures linked 35. Almack’s Assembly Rooms on King Street, St. James’s,
together, although many dance manuals of the period still were built by a Scotsman, William Almack, whose actual
used the terms interchangeably. The name of the cotillion is name was William Macall (MacCall or McCaul). The name
derived from the French word for petticoat. Desmond F. Stro- of the establishment was created when the owner reversed the
bel in his article “Cotillon” in the International Encyclopedia syllables in his surname. Macall, who had been the former
of Dance. (Vol. 2. Ed. Selma Jeanne Cohen, p. 251–53. New valet of the Duke of Hamilton, and was married to the
York: Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 252 states that the Duchess of Hamilton’s lady-in-waiting, had saved some
name springs from an old French song which was popular in money after opening a coffee house in the West End in 1759,
the eighteenth century. The lyric of the song read, “My gos- which catered to gentleman. In 1764, he opened an even more
sipy companion, how does my petticoat look when I dance? successful gaming club for young wealthy aristocrats who
It goes like this, it goes like that, like the tail of a cat.” W. G. were looking for high-stakes gambling. It became especially
Raffé. Dictionary of the Dance. (New York: Barnes, 1964), p. popular as a gathering place for a group of dandies called
128 states that the name of the dance actually “referred to the macaronis. The marcaronis had gotten their nickname from
dance of the coterie, originally a term meaning a gild or shar- a corruption of the Italian word maccherone, meaning “cox-
ing company. As each member paid his quote (his quote or comb,” a reference to the way the young men affected for-
gild) so he received dividends or profits, as “gifts,” when the eign ways and wore their pretension like a badge. These young
disbursement was due, usually at annual, half-yearly, or quar- fops risked enormous sums of money at Almack’s club, often
terly meetings....” The dance mimicked steps of the succes- bankrupting themselves after only one night of playing haz-
sive phases of these meetings. ard. The stakes were so high that the men sometimes wore
The cotillion evolved to include many steps and figures, masks while gambling to conceal their emotions from the
some of which utilized the waltz. In the nineteenth century other players. The success of Macall’s two ventures, led him
cotillions often lasted two or more hours and developed into to look for other opportunities to expand. He noticed that
games in which presents were offered or gentlemen competed there was shortage of suitable public meeting places for the
for partners. These informal musical dance games had many elite in London. Up to this point, Vauxhall Gardens and
inventive variations and utilized such diverse props as hand- Ranelagh Gardens had been the most popular meeting spots
kerchiefs, parasols, mirrors, chairs, and so forth. One ver- in London. Both open-air pleasure gardens boasted pavil-
sion consisted of two gentlemen approaching a lady holding ions for dancing, but more and more were starting to be over-
a parasol. She offered the parasol to one of the gentleman, run with prostitutes and pickpockets. Macall realized that by
who then had to hold it over the heads of the lady and the creating an elegant and reputable venue, he would meet the
other man as they waltzed around the room. Another con- needs of fashionable society. In 1765 he built Almack’s Assem-
sisted of a lady holding a fishing pole over several kneeling bly Rooms. The ballroom at Almack’s was 100 feet long by 44
men and dangling a line that had a biscuit attached to the end feet wide and boasted gilt columns and pilasters. The build-
of it, in front of their faces. The man who caught the biscuit ings were not even completed when the establishment opened
with his teeth without using his hands received the honor of on King Street on a rainy February night. Despite the
dancing with the lady. inclement weather Macall was fortunate enough to attract at
31. The French version of the waltz was performed on the least a few distinguished guests, including the Duke of Cum-
ball of the foot, as opposed to the flat-footed German and berland. In The Social Dances of the Nineteenth Century in
Viennese waltz. It was generally more complicated and often England. (London: Herbert Jenkins, 1960), p. 24, P. J. S.
included pirouettes, intertwining of the arms, and other clas- Richardson tells of a letter dated February 14, 1765, in which
sical ballet adornments. The French waltz consisted of three Horace Walpole wrote to the Earl of Hertford describing the
different dances that were connected together. The first was event.
the slow waltz that was repeated several times and increased
The New Assembly Room at Almack’s was opened the
in tempo until it led into the second dance. The second dance,
night before last, and they say is very magnificent, but
which began allegretto and also increased in tempo, was
it was empty; half the town is ill with colds, and
called the Sauteuse waltz. It utilized leaps and springs. The
many were afraid to go, as the house is scarcely built
final dance of the trio, the Jeté or Quick Sauteuse waltz, began
yet.... They tell me the ceilings were dropping with
allegro and increased to presto, and also included much leap-
wet, but can you believe me, when I assure you the
ing. The Sauteuse waltz and the Jeté waltz were performed in
Duke of Cumberland was there? ...There is a vast
the manner of a valse à deux temps, with two main accents
flight of steps, and he was forced to rest two or three
per bar of music. In a reference to whether one should waltz
times. If he dies of it, — and how should he not?— it
flatfooted or on the ball of the foot, Philip J. S. Richardson.
will sound very silly when Hercules or Theseus ask
The Social Dances of the Nineteenth Century in England. (Lon-
him what he died of, to reply “I caught my death on
don: Herbert Jenkins, 1960), p. 116, commented,
a damp staircase at a new club-room.”
At some popular assemblies dancers thought it was
When Almack’s first opened, members of society paid ten
wrong to touch the floor with the heels in the course
guineas to purchase a subscription that entitled them to din-
of the waltz, and I have seen a competition in which
ner and dancing once a week for twelve weeks. After William
egg-shells were attached to the heels of the waltzers
Macall died in 1781, he willed Almack’s to his niece who con-
and the winner was the couple which kept these
tinued to operate the property with her husband, Mr. Willis,
shells intact the longest.
who served as manager and doorkeeper at the exclusive estab-
32. Captain Rees Howell Gronow, Reminiscences and Rec- lishment. Almack’s eventually became known as Willis’
ollections. London: Smith, Elder and Co., 18?) chapter enti- Rooms, and later was turned into an eating establishment
tled “Society in London in 1814,” page unknown. This version called Willis’s Restaurant. After that, Almack’s was turned
of Gronow’s book was taken from the online Library and into an auction house and remained so until the buildings
edited by Tobias D. Robinson, 2001. were heavily damaged in the bombings of London during
33. The celebration at Almack’s was held to commemo- World War II.
rate the defeat of Napoleon I following his calamitous inva- 36. At one time, Almack’s was the meeting place of an
Notes—Chapter 3 195

exclusive London ladies’ club, and it is likely that the said with emphasis and distinctness, “Give my compliments
patronesses that eventually controlled entrance into balls to the Duke of Wellington, and say she is very glad that the
started as members of this club. The original committee first enforcement of the rule of exclusion is such that here-
included six women; Lady Pembroke, Lady Molyneaux, Mrs. after no one can complain of its application. He cannot be
Fitzroy, Mrs. Meynell, Miss Pelham, and Miss Lloyd. In 1814, admitted.” Captain Gronow’s memoir reports how the Duke
when the patronesses attained their legendary status, the of Wellington “who had a great respect of orders and regula-
council was comprised of Lady Castlereagh, Lady Cowper tions, quietly walked away” when he was refused admittance.
(later Lady Emily Palmerston), Lady Sefton, Mrs. Drum- In 1821, English author Pierce Eagan included in his book
mond-Burrell (later Lady Willoughby De Eresby), Princess of tales, Life in London, a humorous set of verses that spoke
Esterhazy, and Countess (later Princess) Lieven. Lady Sarah of the rules at Almack’s.
Jersey was the leader of this group. She was the undisputed
“What sounds were those?— O, earth and heaven!
head of London society, which gained her the nickname of
Heard you the chimes—half-past eleven?
“Queen Sarah.” It was “Queen Sarah” who personally refused
They tell, with iron tongue, your fate,
entrance to the Duke of Wellington. In his memoirs, Cap-
Unhappy lingerer, if you’re late.
tain Gronow described the women thus;
Such is the rule, which none infringes;
The most popular amongst these grandes dames was The door one jot upon its hinges
unquestionably Lady Cowper, now Lady Palmerston. Moves not. Once past the fatal hour,
Lady Jersey’s bearing, on the contrary, was that of a WILLIS has no dispensing power.
theatrical tragedy queen; and whilst attempting the Spite of persuasion, tears, or force,
sublime, she frequently made herself simply ridicu- ‘The LAW,’ he cries, ‘must take its course.’
lous, being inconceivably rude, and in her manner And men may swear, and women pout,
often ill-bred. Lady Sefton was kind and amiable, No matter, — they are ALL SHUT OUT.”
Madame de Lieven haughty and exclusive, Princess
Later in Egan’s tales of the happenings at Almack’s, he
Esterhazy was a bon enfant, Lady Castlereagh and
explained how the Duke of Wellington was humbled when
Mrs. Burrel de tres grandes dames.
he tried to gain entrance to the Assembly Rooms.
According to accounts, the seven ladies rotated turns so that
“Fair Worcester pleads with Wellington:
there was actually only one patroness at a time who controlled
Valour with beauty, ‘Hence, begone!
the distribution of tickets. Those fortunate enough to be hon-
Perform elsewhere your destin’d parts,
ored with a voucher were allowed to bring one guest, but this
One conquer kingdoms, t’other hearts.
guest had to meet with the patroness personally and be
My Lord, you’d have enough to do;
approved. If they were, the guest was given a “Stranger’s
ALMACK’S is not like WATERLOO.’
Ticket.” If they were not, they were blackballed. Tickets were
For the first time in vain, his Grace
especially sought after by mothers who wished to present
Sits down in form before the place;
their marriageable daughters in the hopes they might find
finds, let him shake it to the centre,
suitable husbands at the elegant gatherings. This practice led
ONE fortress that he cannot enter,
Captain Gronow to refer to Almack’s as a “matrimonial
Though he should offer on its borders
bazaar.” Once the patronesses gave their stamp of approval
The sacrifice on HALF his orders.”
to a young lady, her future was assured.
37. The Season in London was determined by the open- (The above verses were extracted from Allison Thompson’s
ing of Parliament in town, which in turn was determined by book Dancing Through Time: Western Social Dance in Liter-
the closing of fox hunting season in the country. It usually ature, 1400–1918: Selections. (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1998),
began sometime before Christmas, and extended through the pp.131–33, quoting Pierce Egan, Life in London. 1821; (New
winter, spring and early summer. The greatest flurry of balls York: D. Appleton, 1904), pp. 231–233.)
took place after the Easter holidays when a three-month 41. The woman who introduced the waltz to England at
whirlwind of parties and dances took place. The Season Almack’s Assembly Rooms was born in Riga, Russia in 1785
officially ended with the adjournment of Parliament and the as Dorothea Christorovna Benckendorff. She married Count
simultaneous opening of grouse hunting season on August Lieven at the age of fifteen, and at the age of twenty-six, when
12th. Curt Sachs in his book World History of the Dance. (New he was made Russian Ambassador to the Court of St James’s,
York: W.W. Norton, 1937), p. 68, suggests that the ballroom she moved with her husband to England. She was reported
“dance season” that traditionally went from autumn to the to have a huge ego, and that she believed she had more polit-
end of winter can be traced to primitive fertility rites which ical influence than either her own husband or the Czar of
tabooed dancing between sowing and harvesting Russia. She was never hesitant to use her associations to gain
38. Lilly Grove, Dancing. (London: Longmans, Green, and power and was said to be a women who would betray any-
Co., 1907) p. 402. one if it suited her purposes. Her husband was recalled to
39. Gronow, np. From the chapter in his memoirs entitled Russia in 1834, but she returned to England again in 1848,
“Society in London in 1814.” this time having been elevated to the status of Princess. She
40. Besides setting the strictest guidelines regarding a gen- died in 1857.
tleman’s attire at each affair, the seven patronesses of Almack’s 42. Peter Buckman, Let’s Dance: Social, Ballroom and Folk
declared that each ball would start precisely at 11:30 P.M. Dancing. (New York: Paddington Press, 1978) p. 125.
(Other sources say 11:00 P.M.) Doors closed at that time, and 43. Various sources list the date for publication of Byron’s
under no circumstances was anyone permitted entrance by poem as 1813, 1816, or 1821.
the vigilant doorkeeper Mr. Willis. Kristine Hughes recorded 44. This poem is available in several sources. This version
the importance of this rule in her web article “The Lady was extracted from Thompson, pp. 135–8.
Patronesses of Almack’s” (2001). Hughes tells of an eyewit- 45. George Gordon Noel Byron (1788–1824) had a much
ness account of the infamous incident in which the most publicized affair with Lady Caroline Ponsonby Lamb, the wife
famous military hero of the period was excluded. The story of Viscount William Lamb, son of Byron’s close friends, Lord
is recounted by a gentleman named Tricknor, who was stand- and Lady Melbourne. (William Lamb, later Lord Melbourne,
ing next to Lady Jersey when the Duke of Wellington arrived was the first prime minister to serve under Queen Victoria.)
late. He tells how an attendant informed the patroness of the The two met when Bryon was 24, and he was already famous
Duke’s arrival and his wish to enter. Lady Jersey asked what for writing “Childe Harold.” Lady Caroline was 27, and the
time it was, and the attendant answered, “Seven minutes after mother of an autistic son. The affair was tumultuous from
eleven, your ladyship.” Tricknor recalled, “She paused, then the beginning. Byron was especially jealous when Lady Car-
196 Notes — Chapter 3

oline waltzed with other men. Since the poet was lame and The gauze over-dress was green and gold and embroidered
could not dance himself, the infatuated Lady Caroline gave to the waist with metal work and covered with jewels. Her
up waltzing and sat with her lover despite the fact that she turquoise colored velvet train was also heavily studded with
loved to dance and before the affair, was often considered the precious stones of every shade and hue, embroidered in gold
life of the party. After Byron abruptly ended the obsessive and stitched in an Eastern design. The outfit was lavishly aug-
affair, the two ex-lovers happened to run into each other at mented by several pieces from the Duchess’ extensive jewelry
a waltzing party given by Lady Heathcote in London on July collection. Her headdress was made of diamonds ornaments
5, 1813. A wounded Lady Caroline approached Byron and said and strands of pearls.
to the poet, “I conclude I may waltz now.” Byron responded, Other guests were similarly outfitted in costumes that
“With every body in turn — you always did it better than any- spared neither expensive nor ingenuity. Alice Keppel, the mis-
one. I shall have pleasure in seeing you.” Later after watch- tress of the Prince of Wales, who was part of the Louis XVI
ing her dance with others Byron added sarcastically, “I have group, went so far as to insist her dressmaker procure authen-
been admiring your dexterity.” The hurt Lady Caroline seized tic material actually manufactured in the eighteenth century
a table knife (other sources say a broken glass) and when an to insure her costume’s authenticity. The Countess of West-
amused and contemptuous Byron continued to taunt her, moreland, part of the allegorical group, appeared as Hebe,
she fled the ballroom. She was eventually restrained by some goddess of youth, and wore a huge stuffed eagle perched on
ladies, but cut her hand as the knife was being taken away her shoulder. One female guest had planned to make her
from her. The incident was reported in the papers and cre- entrance at the ball riding on an elephant borrowed from the
ated a scandal. London zoo, but at the last minute was dissuaded by the zoo
46. Wilson’s desire to cast a veneer of respectability over keeper who warned her that the beast might not react well to
the waltz led him to create several sedate country dances that all the commotion. Even all of the servants were dressed in
were performed in triple meter. These tamer versions of the either Elizabethan or Egyptian costumes.
waltz were designed so dancers did not utilize the notorious The dancing that evening began and ended with grand pro-
close embrace that so scandalized moralists. cessional marches, and was highlighted by quadrilles in which
47. The complete title of Thomas Wilson’s dance manual each group used steps from the country or historical period
was A Description of the Correct Manner of Waltzing, the Truly their court represented. These specialty dances were inter-
Fashionable Species of Dancing, That, from the graceful and spersed with the ever popular waltz for those not hampered
pleasing beauty of the Movements, have obtained an ascen- by heavy, cumbersome costumes.
dancy over every other Department of that Polite Branch of In the early Victorian era, opponents to dancing believed
Education. fancy dress balls were not only an ostentatious display of
48. Carner, p. 21 and Thompson, pp. 118, and 133–4. wastefulness and frivolity, but also, a breeding ground of vice
49. Philip J. S Richardson, The Social Dances of the Nine- which provided opportunities for sexual license under the
teenth Century in England. (London: Herbert Jenkins, 1960) anonymity of deceitful disguises.
pp. 56–57, states that the Princess Victoria was given a Birth- 53. The legend surrounding the polka states that it was
night Ball by King William and his wife Queen Adelaide on discovered in Elbeleinitz, in Eastern Bohemia, by a local
her twelve birthday, as well as one shortly before she ascended school teacher, Josef Neruda, who came across a peasant girl
the throne at eighteen. The juvenile ball she attended at four- named Anna Chadimova (or Anna Slezak) singing and danc-
teen is mentioned in Elizabeth Longford’s book Victoria R.I., ing one Sunday afternoon after she had received good news
p. 28. about her boyfriend, a soldier. Neruda copied down the girl’s
50. Elizabeth Longford, Victoria R.I. (New York: Harper impromptu song and the next week, the peasant girl taught
& Row, 1973) p. 50. her improvised dance to some of Neruda’s students. The
51. Johann Strauss I also composed a piece called The Myr- dance began to be presented at various public festivals and
tle Waltz which he inscribed “for the wedding of Her Majesty in 1835, eventually found its way to Prague where it caught
Queen Victoria to His Royal Highness Prince Albert of Saxe- the public’s attention. The dances true origins are more likely
Coburg.” derived from the polska, a sixteenth century Polish folk
52. The most lavish and spectacular costume entertain- dance, that was revived during the early nineteenth century
ment of the century was given by Spencer Compton when Bohemian nationalists were stirring up patriotic fervor.
Cavendish, the 8th Duke of Devonshire, and his portly wife, The polka was eventually taken to Paris around 1840, and
the Duchess Louise. The event was held on July 2, 1897, dur- presented at the Odéon Theatre by M. J. Raab, a dancing mas-
ing the celebrations to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Dia- ter from Prague, who performed the dance in Slavic costume.
mond Jubilee. Although the Queen was too old and infirm Recognizing the possibilities of creating the next fashionable
to attend herself, the names of several other members of the trend, the top French dancing masters, Cellarius, Coralli,
royal family graced the guest list, along with other aristocrats Laborde, and Petipa, took the peasant dance and refined it
and visiting dignitaries. The invitations stipulated that guests by adding French stylistic elements. The simple dance was
dress in “allegorical or historical costumes before 1815.” The expanded to include five figures around 1843–4, and each
eight hundred guests who received the coveted invitations prominent dancing master developed his own version,
and attended the Devonshire House Ball were organized into proudly claiming that his and his alone was the best polka.
thematic groups and made ceremonial entrances in some of Bitter rivalries developed, the most vociferous between the
the most outrageously lavish and expensive costumes ever two schools of M. Cellarius and Eugene Coralli. The battle
seen. The five groups were: the English Court of Elizabeth I over who had the best polka reached such a fever pitch that
led by Lady Tweedmouth; the Austrian Court of Maria a huge public contest was held between the two dancing mas-
Theresa led by Lady Londonderry; Queen Guinivere and the ters. Coralli vanquished Cellarius at the contest, but the
Knights of the Round Table led by Lady Ormonde; the Court enmity only escalated as each camp continued to claim own-
of Louis XV and XVI, led by Lady Warwick as Marie ership of the superior polka. Polka mania quickly spread
Antoinette; and the Russian Court of Catherine the Great led throughout the Continent, and then to England and Amer-
by Lady Raincliffe. Three other loosely arranged groups con- ica. Eugène Coulon, another French dancing master, is cred-
sisted of the Italian procession, the allegorical costumes, and ited for first introducing the polka to the English in 1844,
the Orientals, led by the stout, elderly hostess dressed as although the dance truly made its mark there when the more
Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, who made her entrance on a famous Cellarius presented the dance at Almack’s in London
palanquin carried in on the straining shoulders of her ser- the same year. Also that same year, famed ballet dancer Car-
vants posing as slaves. The Duchess’ costume was designed lotta Grissi and her partner Jules Perrot, danced the polka on
by the famous Parisian couturier M. Worth. It had an under the stage of Her Majesty’s Theatre to overwhelming response.
dress of silver cloth, stitched with silver thread and diamonds. The popularity of the dance cannot be overstated. Richard-
Notes—Chapter 3 197

son, p. 83, quotes a piece in the London Times at the height 57. Supposedly, Papanti’s partner during the waltz was
of the polka craze, “Politics is for the moment suspended in Mrs. Harrison Gray Otis. A scion of Boston society, Mrs.
public regard by the new and all-absorbing pursuit, the Otis, née Elizabeth Boardman, had married in to an influen-
Polka.” tial family. Her father-in-law had been in Congress and was
The polka quickly spread to the United States, where it was also the second mayor of Boston. Elizabeth was the second
received with similar enthusiasm, especially in New York. wife of the son William Foster Otis. The couple had five chil-
The popularity of the dance spawned a variety of merchan- dren. After, her husband died, she was romantically linked
dizing efforts associated with the polka. In America, fabric with several men including Daniel Webster and Henry Clay.
covered with circles began to be known as polka dotted. It is highly unlikely that Papanti’s demonstration in 1834 with
Politician James K. Polk took advantage of the dance craze as Mrs. Otis was the first time the waltz was actually done in
part of his 1844 presidential campaign. The word “polka” is America. A more feasible explanation is that this event was
derived from the Czech word pulka, meaning half, a refer- the introduction of the Boston waltz, a slower, smoother ver-
ence to the small steps and half turns of the dance. sion than the more widely popular Viennese waltz. It has been
54. As with the waltz, the polka was met in some circles suggested that Papanti installed the sprung floor in his ball-
with shock and outrage. The Illustrated London News in April room to accommodate Mrs. Otis who was a large, heavy-set
of 1844 included this commentary: woman.
It is a waste of time to consider this nonsense. The 58. Quote found in several online sources.
weathercock heads of the Parisians have been 59. Quote from Cleveland Armory’s book The Proper
delighted always by any innovation, but they have Bostonians (E. P. Dutton, 1947) extracted from the website “A
never imported anything more ridiculous or Brief History of Scollay Square.” Armory also wrote, “...By
ungraceful than this Polka. It is a hybrid confusion of 1837 Papanti had has [sic] become so successful that he was
Scotch Lilt, Irish Jig, and Bohemian Waltz, and needs able to move his academy to new and palatial quarters on
only to be seen once to be avoided for ever! Tremont Street. Here he built a hall with a $1200 chandelier,
five enormous gilt-framed mirrors and the first ballroom floor
(Richardson, p. 87–8.) in America to be built on springs.” In Edward Everett Hale’s
The polka craze arrived in Britain around 1844 and book, A New England Boyhood (Boston: Little, Brown and
brought with it another craze, the thé dansant, or tea dance. Company, 1927, p. 5) the author writes, “It was a surprise to
These afternoon dancing parties became all the rage among everyone when Papanti introduced it [gaslight] in his new
the upper crust. Tea dances also brought with them a resur- Papanti’s Hall. To prepare for that occasion the ground-glass
rection of the novelty dance-game that had first been intro- shades had a little rouge shaken about in the interior, that the
duced with the cotillion. One particularly popular variation white gaslight might not be too unfavorable to the complex-
used during the first set of the Congou quadrille was called ion of the beauties below” (extracted from the website
La Tasse. During the dance, a gentleman approached his part- National Park Services: Gaslighting in America”). Papanti’s
ner with a cup of tea that she took from him. He then retired. academy of dance on 21 Tremont Row was located next to
A second gentleman did the same with his partner. Then the Morton’s dental office and was in existence from around 1837
two ladies would drink the tea while the two men chassezed until 1899. It was in Papanti’s ballroom that Charles Dickens
around the floor. The women then balancezed to their part- read from his book The Pickwick Papers when he first visited
ners who took their empty tea cups and retired. Boston in 1842.
55. Thompson, p. 150, quoting Charles Durang, The Fash- 60. Quote from Lucius Beebe’s Boston and the Boston Leg-
ionable Dancer’s Casket; or, The Ball-Room Instructor (Fisher end (1935) extracted from the website “Historical Boy’s
& Brother, 1856), p. 41. Clothing — Dancing School and Social Dancing Lesson Rou-
56. Lorenzo Papanti lived from 1799–1873. Some sources tien [sic]” The same website says that Ronald Story’s The
state that he was the bandmaster on the U.S.S. Constitution. Forging of an Aristocracy (1980) states “that ‘Boston Assem-
In the book Romantic Days in Old Boston: The Story of the blies’ were held beginning in the 1830’s at Papanti’s ballroom,
City and of Its People During the Nineteenth Century, providing an opportunity for Harvard students to socialize.”
pp.314–315, author Mary Caroline Crawford states: 61. Gretchen Schneider, “Social Dance: Nineteenth-Cen-
Scion of a noble house of Colonna, Lorenzo Papanti, tury Social Dance.” In International Encyclopedia of Dance.
because a younger son, became an officer in the royal Vol. 5. Ed. Selma Jeanne Cohen, p. 623–26. (New York :
guard of the Duke of Tuscany as a means of making Oxford University Press, 1998) p. 626.
his own way in the world. While in this capacity he 62. Gretchen Schneider, “United States of America: An
committed a political misdemeanor which soon Overview.” In International Encyclopedia of Dance. Vol. 6.
obliged him to flee his native land in the night. With Ed. Selma Jeanne Cohen, pp. 230–53. (New York: Oxford
barely time to get letters of introduction and take University Press, 1998) p. 235.
clothing, — in which he did not fail to include his full 63. Ted Shawn, Every Little Movement: A Book about Fran-
court regalia, however, — he made his way to the old cois Delsarte. (New York: Dance Horizons, reprint 1974) pp.
frigate Ironsides, the officers of which, knowing his 31 & 28.
story, took him aboard as a member of their band. In 64. James Morrison Steele Mackaye, better known as Steele
Boston he presented his letters and for a time eked Mackaye, founded the first acting school in New York City,
out a scanty livelihood playing in the orchestra of the later known as the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
Boston Theatre. Then, with the help of his society 65. Social movements such as abolition, suffrage, and
friends, he founded Papanti’s dancing academy. For a nativism also influenced the style and substance of Ameri-
long term of years the little assembly room at 23 can dance forms.
Tremont Street, opposite the old Boston Museum, 66. Schneider, p. 235.
was the scene of many juvenile trials and youthful 67. There were several versions of the Boston Waltz: the
triumphs. For there the two Papantis, father and son, American Boston; the French Boston; the Spanish Boston;
successively taught little slippered feet to glide and the Philadelphia Boston; the Imitation Boston; the Hesitation
not stumble, and awkward but well-meaning Boston Boston; the Hesitation waltz; the Berceuse or Cradle Boston;
youths how to bear themselves with courtly grace. the Herring Bone Boston; and the Valse L’Americaine. Today
Hundreds of memories centre about the tall spare the Boston is commonly referred to as the American or Slow
man who there called out his directions over his vio- waltz.
lin bow and who was never visible save in the impres- 68. The valse à deux temps, also called the valse à deux
sive elegance of a dress coat and a well-fitting wig. pas, or the Russian waltz, is believed to have originated in
Russian and was first introduced to Europe around the mid-
198 Notes — Chapter 4

dle of the nineteenth century in Paris, France. The following version as the “Ignoramus Waltz.” Despite Dodworth’s
is an account of the dances’ introduction in Paris: protests, the valse à deux temps grew in popularity in the
United States.
I know exactly what I am talking about when I speak
72. Gilbert, p. 51.
of the Russian origin of the Two-step waltz, as my
father was the second person to dance it in Paris in
1839 — I say “the second person” intentionally, for the
first was one of his students. I can still remember the
following curious and little known anecdote about Chapter 4
the introduction of the Russian Waltz to France, for
1. Elizabeth Aldridge, From the Ballroom to Hell: Grace
the Two-Step Waltz is not only Russian, but it is even
and Folly in Nineteenth-century Dance. (Evanston, IL: North-
their National Waltz. Let me add, in passing, that
western University Press, 1991) p. 24, quoting The Mirror of
their ladies and gentlemen excel in dancing; their
the Graces.
energy, their brio, often surpass ours. In January
2. Susan Mary Alsop, The Congress Dances. (New York:
1839, the Baron de Nieuken, attaché with the Russian
Harper & Row, 1984) p. 166.
delegation, took dancing lessons with my father, and
3. In his book Reminiscences and Recollections, Captain
took them as they were given at the time —composed
Gronow reported that when he attended a ball in London in
of all the fundamental exercises of dance: pliés, batte-
1816, the Prince Regent was offended that he wore trousers
ments, etc. Our baron had to go one evening to a
instead of knee breeches, but within the year, the Prince him-
great ball given by the Count Mole, then Minister of
self was wearing trousers whenever he appeared in public. In
Foreign Affairs, and would have to dance the waltz
1816, dancing master Thomas Wilson criticized the wearing
with some charming Moscow ladies. He therefore
of trousers instead of knee breeches and recommended that
asked his professor to rehearse it with him. My father
they be prohibited in the respectable ballroom.
was upset by the words “Two-step Waltz,” which
4. Aldridge, p. 70, quoting The Laws of Etiquette. By a
seemed in manifest contradiction with three-beat
Gentleman. (Philadelphia: 1836) p. 29.
waltz time; but everything was promptly arranged
5. Cameron Kippen, “The History of Footwear — Danc-
when he saw our baron dancing the waltz with his
ing Shoes” 6/03
first step on the first two beats of the measure, and
the second step on the third beat. Right away my
6. Kippen, np.
father understood that in dance, as in music, two
7. The corset was believed to cause many health prob-
notes can make up a three-beat measure, taking the
lems in women including migraines, melancholy, shortness
notes here as movements. Pupil and teacher waltzed
of breath, tuberculosis and epilepsy (through friction of the
together, and the pupil that evening attracted the
lung and the rib), cancer, prolapsed uterus, atrophy of
admiration of all the ladies for his two-step waltz.
abdominal muscles, displacement of and damage to the liver,
From that moment onward, the old three-beat waltz
displacement of stomach and intestines, malformation of the
was but little honored in the salons; only the public
ribs, scoliosis of the spine, and difficulty in childbirth.
balls kept it on; but, to follow the example above, the
Although tight lacing certainly did present health risks, many
habitués of La Chaumière created a second,
of these claims were overblown. In 1859, one Paris newspa-
simplified kind of two-step waltz, contenting them-
per reported that a young lady had died when her liver was
selves with jumping sometimes on one foot, some-
pierced by three of her ribs while trying to lace her corset too
times on the other, without paying much attention to
tightly. There were also rumors that one victim actually sev-
the music. The prince of Galitzine, the baron and the
ered her liver in half by lacing her corset to tight. Opponents
count of Damas, and the marquis de La Baume were
of tight lacing were numerous and vocal. In her web article
the first two-beat waltzers in Paris. The day after the
Fashion and Eroticism. Chapter 9, “The Corset Controversy.”
ball at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, they danced it
Danielle Steel states that The Ladies’ Sanitary Association
at the home of Count Tanneguy Duchattel, Minister
announced “There ought to be the word Torture, or Murder,
of the Interior.
in large letters on every pair of stays.” She also tells of Orson
(This account above is originally from an the dance manual S. Fowler, an American phrenologist who denounced the
Traité de la danse, contenant la théorie et l’histoire des danses corset for what he considered an even more insidious rea-
anciennes et modernes. Avec toutes les figures les plus nouvelles son — it’s ability to stimulate female sexuality. The web arti-
du cotillon. Written by G. Desrat. (Paris: H. Delarue et cie, cle reports that in his book Intemperance and Tight-Lacing,
190–?) pp. 80–83. The manual has digitalized by the Ameri- Fowler explained how by squeezing the liver, the corset
can Ballroom Companion by the Library of Congress. The tainted the blood, which in turn affected the brain and caused
translation was taken from the Wikipedia listing “valse à deux insanity. When this happened, he wrote, “[it] necessarily
temps.”) excites the organs of Amativeness, situated in the lowest point
When dancing the valse à deux temps, the couple slid their of the brain.” Compression also “inflames all the organs of
feet on the floor instead of stepping. They made fewer revo- the abdomen which thereby excites amative desires.” He con-
lutions and also reversed directions and revolved counter- cludes, “tight-lacing ... necessarily kindles impure feelings ...
clockwise. The Viennese waltz only allowed the couple to at the same time that it renders their possessors more weak-
spin clockwise. The ability to reverse directions cut down on minded, so as the more easily to be led into temptation.”
the perpetual motion that created such vertigo. Dress reform gained momentum during the middle of the
69. Melvin B. Gilbert, The Director: Dancing Deportment, nineteenth century but was hampered by the widely held view
Etiquette, Aesthetics, Physical Training. (Portland, ME : that being frail, weak, or ill was fashionable, and a sign of
Melvin Ballou Gilbert, 1898) (reprint by Dance Horizons 1975 higher social status. In addition, the dress reform movement
or 1976) p. 17. was linked to the suffrage movement and therefore associated
70. Thompson, p. 206, quoting Fred W. Loring, The Boston with an unpopular cause for many. In England there was at
Dip. (Boston: Loring, Publisher, 1871.) least one attempt to exhibit the advantages of dancing in the
71. As the valse à deux temps gradually replaced the valse new pantaloons introduced by Amelia Bloomer. A ball was
à trois temps, or Viennese waltz in popularity, American given and all female attendees were to arrive in the bloomer
dancing masters expressed growing concerns. Connoisseurs costume. When a large contingent of prostitutes crashed the
of the waltz felt that true skill on the dance floor was only dance though, it quickly degenerated into what many viewed
demonstrated if one did the valse à trois temps. This led dance as an orgy, confirming to the opponents of dress reform that
instructors such as Allen Dodworth to refer to the simpler any form of freedom for women foreshadowed the downfall
Notes—Chapter 4 199

of moral society. By 1857, even Amelia Bloomer herself gave Information and Treasury of Useful and Entertaining Knowl-
up the costume named for her and returned to wearing crino- edge, 1882.
lines. 17. Aldrich, p. 30.
The corset provided other challenges for dancing besides 18. Joseph Wechsberg, The Waltz Emperors: The Life and
the more obvious health-related issues. The layers of stiffen- Times and Music of the Strauss Family. (New York: G. P. Put-
ing also shielded a woman from the subtle pressure of the nam’s Sons, 1973) p. 61.
man’s hand on her waist, and made it harder to interpret his 19. There were several inns and taverns along the Danube.
hand signals as he was trying to lead her around the dance Some of the most popular were “The White Lamb,” “The
floor. Allison Thompson points out in her book Dancing Golden Bear,” “The White Cockerel,” “The Blue Star,” and
Through Time: Western Social Dance in Literature, 1400–1918: “The Good Shepherd.” Johann Baptist Strauss I was born on
Selections. (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1998), p. 152, that there the second floor of “The Good Shepherd” on March 14, 1804.
were some advantages to the stiff corsets. They were “some- His father, Franz Strauss was the tavern keeper. After his
thing to ‘lean’ against, providing support to women whose mother died when he was seven, and then his father died a
backs were weak due to lack of exercise.” Thompson explains few years later of an apparent suicide, Johann Strauss con-
that when the man rested his gloved hand on the woman’s tinued to frequent the taverns against his step-mother’s
waist, her layers of clothing and stiff corseting, actually pre- wishes so that he could listen to the traveling musicians.
sented the tactile feeling of something rigid and unmovable. Deciding that he wished to learn music, he begged his step-
She quotes one gentleman observer, who commented, father to buy him a violin. Legend has it that the young
To my mind, a non-stayed waist is horrid, and is Strauss poured beer into his violin to improve its sound.
often called fleshy, sticky, and other names by gentle- 20. In addition to providing dance music, these musicians
men at dances, and rightly too. What man enjoys a also frequently strolled table to table to provide music for the
dance holding a flabby waist, where his fingers sink diners. This practice earned them the nicknames “beer
into fat? Has [the reader] ever noticed a tightly-laced fiddlers” and “roast-meat fiddlers.”
girl at a ball? Invariably she has all the best partners, 21. The music-loving Viennese were avid collectors of
and with good reason. We love a stiff, hard, well- “musical freaks,” mechanical toys that played music. The
boned waist to hold. most common example was the cuckoo clock. Other acousti-
cal inventions included snuff boxes made with mechanical
(Thompson, p. 152, quoting Peter Farrer, Men in Petticoats hummingbirds attached to the lid that popped up and sang
(Liverpool: Karn Publications Garston, 1987) p.11.) every time snuff was taken, and a musical bed that was pur-
8. Aldrich, p. 25. ported to encourage restful slumber by playing a lullaby as
9. Aldrich, p.25, quoting John Robert Godley, Letters soon as one lay down, followed by muted horns to induce
From America, p. 44. drowsiness. The bed also prevented oversleeping with its
10. Aldrich, p. 26. built-in alarm clock that startled the sleeper awake with a
11. Crinolines were used as underlining for several layers cacophony of playing instruments. Another musical freak
of petticoats, and were made of horsehair stiffening, rein- was a pool table that played pleasing melodies during the
forced with wood, wire, whale bone, or bamboo. These con- game. The pool table whistled and laughed if a player missed
traptions helped to carry the weight of the petticoats that a shot and greeted the victor with a fanfare of trumpets. Vien-
sometimes weighed over nine pounds. nese dentists sometimes used a musical “soothing soundbox”
12. With the advent of the bustle, a large pad made out of which sang into a patient’s ear during the more painful pro-
horsehair, or whale bone and springs, skirts became tighter cedures, with gentle stress-reducing melodies and such catchy
and more constraining. To deal with this new challenge, lyrics as “Let me come closer to your mouth and gaze at your
women sometimes tied their knees together with a piece of pearly teeth!” One popular invention was a birdcage whose
cloth so that they could maintain a graceful walk in which wires were musically tuned so when a bird landed on them,
the movements were soft, undulating and almost impercep- spontaneous melodies were created. Marcel Brion in his book
tible. Daily Life in the Vienna of Mozart and Schubert. (New York:
13. Aldridge, p. 74, includes a passage from Hudson K. Macmillan Company, 1962), p. 119 states, “It had become an
Lyverthey’s Our Etiquette and Social Observances. (Grand obsession, and Schönholz reports that you could not open a
Rapids: 1881) p. 63, that describes the use of gloves. door, touch a table, seize any object or even look at the clock
A gentleman cannot be too careful not to spoil a without some spring immediately releasing floods of har-
lady’s dress. Gloves are not worn to a ball for looks mony.”
alone but serve a practical purpose as well. The per- 22. The waltz music of Schubert, Strauss, Lanner, and oth-
spiration on the hand from dancing will ruin a lady’s ers was strongly inspired by Austrian folk music. This
dress when gloves are not worn, then the gentleman influence was partially due to the melodic limitations and
should hold his handkerchief in his right hand so possibilities of rural instruments, and also by the vocal char-
that his hands will not touch the lady’s dress. acter of the alpine yodel. The “alp-cry,” forced an abrupt
transition across vocal registers so that the pitch jumped an
14. Aldridge, p. 72, quotes Cecil B. Hartley, The Gentle- octave, double octave, seventh, fifth, fourth, or third. Waltz
men’s Book. (Boston: ca.1860) p. 16, composers frequently mimicked this yodel by inserting sim-
Never dance without gloves. This is an imperative ilar melodic jumps. The wide intervals commonly found in
rule. It is best to carry two pair, as in the contact Austrian peasant dances expressed a strong, vigorous, mas-
with dark dresses, or in handling refreshments, you culine character, and contrasted sharply with the embellished,
may soil the pair you wear entering the room, and Rococo and Baroque feminine quality of French music. This
will thus be under the necessity of offering your hand robust, lusty quality became an integral part of classical waltz
covered by a soiled glove, to some fair partner. You compositions.
can slip unperceived from the room, change the 23. Mosco Carner, The Waltz. (New York : Chanticleer
soiled for a fresh pair, and then avoid that Press, 1948) pp. 25–6, quoting Nikolaus Lenau’s “Styrian
mortification. dance.”
24. Aware of the conflicting social attitudes about the
15. Aldrich, pp. 103–105, offers fascinating examples of dance as an expression of both beauty and shame, many opera
the language of glove, fan, parasol, and handkerchief flirta- composers intentionally utilized the seductive strains of the
tions. waltz to illuminate a particular dramatic theme, especially
16. Columbine, “The Language of Flowers” (web article). taking advantage of the connection between society’s disap-
Extracted from Collier’s Cyclopedia of Commercial and Social probation of the waltz and prevailing concepts about women.
200 Notes — Chapter 4

The social connotations of the scandalous dance and it’s var- tered, sending splinters of glass upon the audience. The sud-
ious associations with both personal pleasure and public con- denly sober Lanner and Strauss quickly disappeared from the
demnation, led opera composers to utilize this paradox to building.
convey to their audiences such dramatic themes as a woman’s 29. Weschberg, p. 32.
free-spirited vitality, her powers of seduction, and often, her 30. The men reconciled in 1828, when Lanner married.
eventual downfall. In the book, Revolving Embrace: The Waltz Gartenberg (p. 51) reports that the reconciliation took place
as Sex, Steps, and Sound, Sevin Yaraman explores this idea and at the marriage of Lanner’s daughter, when Strauss “made an
cites La Traviata and La Bomème as just two examples of this unscheduled appearance to congratulate the bride. As fate
musical device. would have it, the wedding party took place in the same ball-
At the beginning of La Traviata, the two main characters, room in which the final fracas had occurred. As Strauss
Violetta and Alfredo, sing a waltz duet. Verdi subsequently appeared in the door all movement and conversation stopped.
uses this theme throughout his opera to convey to his audi- The music died away after a few hesitant bars as all eyes
ence the “central motifs of love, joy, and Alfredo’s domi- turned to the two men, Lanner and Strauss. The spirit of the
nance” (Yaraman, p. 46). Later at the end of the third act, the happy occasion prevailed. Lanner’s face lit up and he opened
two lovers again sing a waltz duet as they face Violetta’s his arms to the unexpected but most welcome guest. The two
impending demise. The waltz music then alludes to misery rushed towards each other and embraced amid shouts and
and a woman’s ruin. In this way, Verdi employs the waltz’s tears of joy.” After reconciling the two friends frequently met
dual connotations to communicate his message to the audi- and also played each other’s compositions.
ence by using it “to mark the key moments in the classical 31. Weschberg, p. 37, quoting Chopin.
tragedic rise and fall, the moments of hope and despair” 32. Lanner was first married at age twenty-seven to
(Yaraman, p. 46). First produced in 1853, La Traviata, also Franziska Jahns, the daughter of a glove-maker. He later took
known as “The Woman Led Astray” is a perfect example of a mistress, Marie Kraus, a butcher’s daughter, eventually
nineteenth century society’s attitudes towards women and divorcing his wife to marry her. An avid collector of smok-
the waltz. In La Bomème (1896) Puccini introduces his waltz ing pipes, Lanner had a huge collection he had gathered from
theme in the character of Musetta. By choosing the waltz for all over the world. His obsession with pipes would sometimes
Musetta instead of the frail main character Mimì, the com- lead him to accost people on the street or at a dance if he saw
poser reflects society’s belief that women associated with the a unique specimen he wanted to possess. He was known to
waltz are full of life. But, Puccini is also aware of the other spend exorbitant amounts on the spot if he desired one. Lan-
social implications of the waltz, and uses the music to reveal ner had a hugely successful career as a composer and con-
that Musetta is flirtatious and seductive. She first arrives on ductor of dance music. In addition to writing over one
the stage escorted by her benefactor, but quickly shows her hundred waltzes, he also composed numerous other pieces
true colors and attempts to seduce another man. Puccini of dance music. He was largely responsible for contributing
clearly communicates that there is something inherently to the waltz fever that swept Vienna during the nineteenth
degenerate about this woman. As with the waltz, Musetta is century. Josef Franz Karl Lanner died on Good Friday, April
the embodiment of all that is attractive, robust, beautiful, 14, 1843 at age forty-two from inflammation of the lungs due
sexy, but also, all that is immoral. to typhus. Thousands and thousands came out to honor the
25. Michael Pamer played nightly at The Golden Pear Inn. man. Johann Strauss I conducted the music at his funeral.
The inn was a favorite of Joseph Lanner’s father, and the boy 33. Weschberg, p. 71.
frequently accompanied his father when he visited the spot. 34. In 1833, while still married to his wife Anna, who was
It was there that Lanner first heard Pamer’s style of Viennese the mother of six of his children, Johann Strauss met a hat-
dance music. Pamer was famous for one particular stunt. He maker named Emilie Trambausch, and fathered six illegiti-
would play a song entitled “Blissful Memories of the Good mate children with her. He named his first son with Emilie,
Hütteldorf Beer,” and upon completing the number, chug a Johann, and Strauss’ legal wife Anna was horrified at this bla-
full stein of beer. If the audience egged him on, which they tant insult to her first born, Johann II. She confronted her
always did, he repeated the number and the beer guzzling wayward husband and gave him an ultimatum. Strauss chose
again and again until he was totally intoxicated and the audi- the hat-maker, and in 1844, an angry Anna filed for divorce.
ence finally let him continue with the rest of the concert. The couple went through a bitter battle over money. Anna
Lanner joined Pamer’s orchestra at age twelve but grew dis- had band uniforms seized when Strauss refused to pay sup-
gusted with the conductor’s drunkenness that always resulted port to his first family. The divorce was finalized in 1846, and
in rages, melancholy, or fits of crying. This childish behavior shortly after, Strauss changed his will to leave everything to
finally propelled Lanner to leave Pamer’s group and form his Emilie and his children by her. Despite his musical successes,
own orchestra. Pamer’s musical talent was undeniable, but his Strauss had enormous financial problems and difficultly sup-
drinking along with heavy gambling eventually ruined him. porting his two families. He fought with Anna constantly and
He died an alcoholic at age forty-five. Johann Strauss also threatened not to give her money if his sons followed him in
played for Michael Pamer. Both young men received invalu- to music field. On September 25, 1849, at the age of 45,
able practical experience with the talented but troubled Pamer. Strauss died in near poverty from complications resulting in
26. Strauss had studied music against his father’s wishes. meningitis after contracting scarlet fever from one of his ille-
27. At the beginning of their friendship, Lanner and gitimate daughters. Emilie was said to have beaten the little
Strauss were almost inseparable. Wechsberg, p. 32, says that girl who gave him the disease nearly to death. The child’s
according to legend they were once down to their last clean screams eventually prompted neighbors to call the police.
shirt so they took turns wearing it. One wore the shirt out, According to Josef Strauss, he and his brothers discovered
while the other stayed home. his father’s dead body lying on hard wooden bed slats. The
28. Lanner’s and Strauss’ famous fight took place in the bed itself, and everything else in the house, had been hastily
ballroom of Zum Bok, (The Ram). It was early in the morn- removed by Emilie, who had fled. Johann II was overcome
ing at the end of the concert, and both men were tired and after seeing his father’s body and ran out of the apartment
slightly inebriated. Strauss grew irritated at Lanner’s long- in horror, disappearing for two days until he finally showed
winded farewell speech and finally hit Lanner with his vio- up disheveled and exhausted. After this, he developed a mor-
lin bow. Lanner lashed back and both began to battle until bid fear of disease and death. He was terrified of even seeing
their bows broke. They then started to smash their instru- a hospital or cemetery from a distance. His phobia was so
ments against each other, and as the fight escalated and danc- strong that he could not even attend his mother’s funeral or
ing couples looked on in shock, chairs and furniture were that of his first wife. Anna Strauss and her sons eventually
also thrown. One chair hit a huge mirror that was the pride tracked down Emilie, and fought to get back the elder Strauss’
of the ballroom and renowned throughout Vienna. It shat- instruments and scores. For a while, Emilie had a meager
Notes—Chapter 5 201

existence as a water carrier, but soon she faded away in dire the officer that he had received all of these bouquets within
poverty. Johann Strauss II supported her children. the last two days from his numerous admirers. The officer
35. Anna Streim Strauss was the daughter of the inn- realized that Strauss was not having an affair with his wife,
keeper, who ran The Red Rooster, the tavern where Joseph apologized, and the two parted as friends.
Lanner and Johann Strauss I lived together as young men. 46. According to Gartenberg, p. 244, Johann Strauss him-
She was pregnant with her first son Johann II when she mar- self couldn’t waltz.
ried the elder Strauss on July 11, 1825. Throughout her live 47. Just one week prior to his death on May 26th Strauss
she was a powerful influence on her children’s lives, and had received a visit from Mark Twain, who traveled from the
something of a legend around Vienna. Johann II was her United States just to meet the famous composer.
favorite child and she worked tirelessly to support him in his 48. The Strauss Society as founded in 1936 to collect and
music studies. She conspired with her son so that he could preserve the music of Johann Strauss. Two years later though,
secretly study violin with Franz Amon, the first violinist in when doubts arose about the purity of Strauss’s Aryan blood-
her husband’s orchestra. Amon told the young Johann that a lines, the Nazis prohibited all of the organizations activities,
violinist was the star of the orchestra and urged him to prac- and worked to suppress the fact that Strauss’ great-great-
tice his bow strokes in front of a mirror so they would be ele- grandfather was Jewish. (Strauss’s widow, Adele, was also
gant and appealing to an audience. Johann I caught his son Jewish.) Music scholars who knew of Strauss’s ancestry were
practicing like this one day and smashed the violin against ordered to keep strict silence, and an elaborate scheme was
the floor, forbidding his son to play. Anna Strauss went perpetrated to confiscate old marriage documents that con-
behind her husband’s back and gave her son one of her hus- tained information about Strauss’ Jewish heritage, and cre-
band’s own violins so he could continue practicing. ate forgeries to replace them. The incident caused great
36. Weschberg, p. 85. embarrassment to the Auschluss and would have been an
37. Weschberg, p. 89. enormous scandal to Hitler’s regime if the information
38. Weschberg, p. 90. became known. Strauss’s music had been used widely in Nazi
39. Weschberg, p. 107. propaganda to symbolize all that was purely German.
40. Ibid.
41. Ibid, quoting Eisenberg.
42. Weschberg, p. 119.
43. Eduard had a son Johann III, who took over the direc-
torship of the musical dynasty after his father’s retirement.
Chapter 5
The grandchild of Josef, Eduard II, also continued in the fam- 1. Eduard Reeser, The History of the Waltz. (London: Sid-
ily profession, as did his sons Eduard III and Johann IV. In wick and Jackson, nd.) p. 19, quoting the Journal des Luxus
the Strauss family, it was the tradition to name all male heirs und der Modern, 1797.
Johann, Josef, or Eduard. 2. There were a variety of holds utilized in the waltz. One
44. Gartenberg, p. 247, quotes Johann Strauss’ descrip- variation required the man and the woman to place their
tion of his concert at the Peace Jubilee Festival Hall in Boston hands on their partner’s torso near the armpits. Another pop-
during his American tour. Strauss wrote, ular hold, described in Byron’s poem “The Waltz,” consisted
of each partner putting one of their hands on the other’s
On the musician’s platform there were twenty thou-
shoulder and the second on his or her waist, in mirror image.
sand singers; in front of them the members of the
Both of these holds were considered even more shockingly
orchestra — and these were the people I was to con-
intimate and rude than the traditional ballroom position
duct. A hundred assistants had been placed at my
(man with right hand on woman’s waist holding her right
disposal to control these gigantic masses, but I was
hand in his left, woman’s left hand on his shoulder) that was
only able to recognize those nearest to me, and
also viewed as improper.
although we had had rehearsals there was no possibil-
3. Resser, p. 19, quoting the diary of Crabb Richardson.
ity of giving an artistic performance, a proper pro-
4. Reeser, pp. 20–21, quoting Salomo Jakob Wolf, Beweis
duction. But if I had declined to conduct, it would
daß das Walzen eine Hauptquelle der Schwäche des Körpers
have cost me my life. Now just imagine my position,
und des Geistes unser Generation sey. Deutschlands Söhmen
face to face with a public of a hundred thousand
und Töchtern angelegentlichst empfohlen, (Various sources
Americans. There I stood at the raised platform, high
give three different publishing dates for the book —1792, 1797,
above all the others. How would the business start,
and 1799.) The translation of the title is, “Proof that the waltz
how would it end? Suddenly a cannon shot rang out;
is a main source of the weakness of the body and mind of
a gentle hint for us twenty-thousand to begin to per-
our generation. Most urgently recommended to the sons and
form the Blue Danube. I gave the signal, my one hun-
daughters of Germany.”
dred assistant conductors followed me as quickly and
5. In her book Adversaries of Dance: From the Puritans to
as best they could and then there broke out an
the Present. (Chicago: University of Illinois, 1997) pp. 130–131,
unholy row such as I shall never forget. As we had
Ann Wagner conjectures that many women in the Victorian
begun more or less together, I concentrated my
era did indeed have “delicate constitutions.” She writes,
entire energy on seeing that we should also finish
together!— Thank Heaven, I managed even that. It Yet the ideal for the lady restricted her to hearth and
was all that was humanly possible. The hundred home and encased her in a corset of steel and whale-
thousand mouths in the audience roared their bone, rendering her relatively inactive, hence, physi-
applause and I breathed a sigh of relief when I found cally unfit, by today’s cardiovascular standards. A
myself in fresh air again and felt firm ground woman thus confined may have experienced some
beneath my feet. physical stress when first exposed to lively dancing.
Under such circumstances, dance opponents may not
45. On one of Strauss’s Russian tours in the 1850’s, he was
have been overstating their charge that disease and
greeted with similar adulation. He received love letters and
death from exposure to cold followed vigorous or
flowers daily from the women of St. Petersburg. One Russian
extensive dancing at an evening ball.
officer confronted Strauss and regretfully informed him that
he was honor bound to challenge him to a duel because his 6. Elizabeth Aldrich, From the Ballroom to Hell: Grace
wife had sent the composer red roses every day. Strauss and Folly in Nineteenth-century Dance. (Evanston, IL: North-
responded by taking the young officer to the back of the villa western University Press, 1991) p. 19, quoting Dio Lewis, Our
he was renting at the time to show him two unfurnished Girls (New York: Clarke Bros., 1871.) Lewis was the founder
rooms that were overflowing with flowers. Strauss informed of a school for women of “delicate constitution” in Lexington,
202 Notes — Chapter 6

Massachusetts. He was a proponent of other forms of social 21. Dodworth, p. 41.

dancing, but felt that round dances such as the waltz were detri- 22. Aldridge, p. 111, quoting True Politeness, A Hand-Book
mental to a woman’s health, and therefore should be avoided. of Etiquette for Gentlemen. By an American Gentleman (New
7. Allison Thompson, Dancing Through Time: Western York: Leavitt and Allen, 1847) p. 37.
Social Dance in Literature, 1400–1918: Selections. (Jefferson, 23. In Adversaries of Dance, p. 171, Wagner states,
NC: McFarland, 1998) p. 202, quoting Mrs. John Sherwood. The Victorian code developed with a general distrust
Manners and Social Usages, 1884, extracted from pp. 150–155. of the body. Daily dress completely covered it;
8. This quote originally came from Donald Walker’s women’s fashions distorted it. The code carefully
Exercises for Ladies (London: Thomas Hurst, 1836), p. 149. guarded sexual activity as well, even in marriage. The
The version listed here was drawn from two sources— Sevin typical male on the eve of his wedding had seen only
H. Yaraman. Revolving Embrace: The Waltz as Sex, Steps, and the face and hands of his bride except perhaps for a
Sound. (Hillsdale, NY: Pendragon Press, 2002) p. 7, and Eliz- glimpse afforded by décolletage at a ball. Physical
abeth Aldrich, From the Ballroom to Hell: Grace and Folly in contact had been limited to a formal kiss on the
Nineteenth-century Dance. (Evanston, IL: Northwestern Uni- hand, unless knees had touched daringly under a
versity Press, 1991) pp. 19–20. table. Further, marriage manuals commonly recom-
9. Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, Oshkosh, WI, June 16, mended sex only once a week and told the couple not
1988, p. 2, col. 3. to undress in front of each other. Thus, touching
10. Dr. R. A. Adams, The Social Dance (Kansas City: 1921) even within the bonds of marriage, was restricted by
p. 8. prevailing rules for health and morality. In this con-
11. James H. Brookes, The Modern Dance. (Chicago: The text, the closed dance position seemed a total breech
Church Press, nd.) p. 21. of decorum and morality, for the lady danced with
12. Adams, p. 9. the man’s hand on the small of her back. The posi-
13. Alfred Carroll, “Concerning ‘Round Dances’” in tion appeared like an embrace.
Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, vol. 32, issue 191, April 1866,
pp. 614–616. 24. Melvin B. Gilbert, The Director: Dancing Deportment,
14. Ibid. Etiquette, Aesthetics, Physical Training. (Portland, ME :
15. Reeser, pp. 18–9, quoting Ernst Moritz Arndt, Reisen Melvin Ballou Gilbert, 1898) (reprint by Dance Horizons 1975
durch einen Teil Teutschlands, Ungarns, Italiens und Frankre- or 1976) p. 254.
ich (1804). 25. Gilbert, 254.
16. Ruth Katz, “The Egalitarian Waltz” in Comparative 26. Members of The American Society of Professors of
Studies in Society and History. (New York: Cambridge Uni- Dancing were especially strong advocates of the proper posi-
versity Press, June 1973) p. 179. tion while waltzing. The President of the Society, Melvin Bal-
17. Adams, p.12, quoting Dr. J. H. Kellogg. lou Gilbert, wrote in the December, 1897 issue of his
18. The proper position for couple dancing was achieved magazine The Director,
by bending the body forward slightly, with hips back and The task of stamping out the tendency to degenera-
heels elevated off the floor, in what was known in its more tion in the waltz position is not an easy one. We feel
exaggerated version as the “Grecian Bend.” This term that united action on the part of legitimate teachers
referred to the line of the body being graceful and curved as of dancing is necessary, and to that end all members
in a Grecian statue. of the American Society are resolved to battle, so that
19. Allen Dodworth, an Englishman turned American, was the waltz shall stand pre-eminent, a position which it
one of the most important teachers of social dancing in the justly deserves....
United States. (He was also founder of the New York Phil-
27. Gilbert, p. 8.
harmonic Society and one of its first violinists.) Dodworth
28. “Latest in Dancing” Hawaiian Gazette, Honolulu, HW,
believed that dance was a means of instilling good personal
October 7, 1898, p. 7, col. 1.
morals and gaining social manners. Always stressing the use
29. Henry W. Stough, Across the Dead Line of Amusements.
of dance as a genteel art form, Dodworth was horrified by
(New York: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1912) pp.114–115.
the vulgarity of the polka when it was first introduced in the
30. Stough, p. 115.
United States in the early 1840’s. In 1842, he opened his own
31. In the anti-dance book, Immorality of Modern Dances,
dancing school, the Dodworth Academy in New York, and it
ed. by Beryl and Assoc. (New York: Everitt and Francis Co.
remained in existence until 1920. He wrote Dancing and Its
[etc.], 1904) p. 31, the author writes, “It is a horrible fact, but
Relation to Education and Social Life, With a New Method of
a fact nevertheless, that it is absolutely necessary that a
Instruction Including a Complete Guide to the Cotillion (Ger-
woman shall be able and willing to reciprocate the feelings
man) with 250 Figures, which was first published in 1885, and
of her partner before she can graduate as a perfect dancer, so
which is considered one of the first real textbooks on danc-
that even if it is allowed that a woman may waltz virtuously
ing based on a specific teaching method. Dodworth’s book
she cannot in that case waltz well.”
contained diagrams, illustrations, and examples of musical
32. T. A. Faulkner, From the Ballroom to Hell. (Chicago:
phrases with the dance movements marked on them. Allen
R. B. McKnight, 1894) pp. 14–15.
Dodworth died in 1896 and the dance studio was taken over
33. Aldrich, p. 20, quoting The Illustrated Book of Man-
by his nephew T. George Dodworth, who continued to fos-
ners (New York: Leland Clay & Co., 1855) 397–98.
ter his uncle’s standards concerning deportment and the
34. Originally from Mme. Celnart, The Gentleman and
moral benefits of dancing. When ragtime dances such as the
Lady’s Book of Politeness, 2nd American ed. (Boston: Allen
Bunny Hug and Turkey Trot came into vogue, T. George
and Ticknor and Carter, Hendee, & Co., 1833). This version
formed a group called The New York Society of Teachers of
was drawn from two sources: Aldrich, p. 20, and Buckman,
Dancing that worked to codify dance instruction and ban
pp. 126–7.
dances that were considered vulgar. The group railed against
35. Brookes, pp. 137–138.
modern dances and also against the notion of “cutting in,” a
36. Faulkner, p. 18.
practice which was gaining acceptance among the general
public. “Cutting in” went against the use of dances cards that
well-bred ladies were expected to carry at each dance and
undermined the control that could be exercised by sticking
to an approved list of partners.
Chapter 6
20. Allen Dodworth, Dancing and Its Relations to Educa- 1. In their book Down Memory Lane: Arthur Murray’s
tion and Social Life. (New York: Harper, 1888) pp. 39 and 41. Picture Story of Social Dancing, (New York: Greenberg, 1954,
Notes—Chapter 6 203

p. 66) Sylvia G. L. Dannett, and Frank Rachel state, “from Francisco’s Lost Landmarks, Sanger, CA: Quill Books, 2005,
1912 through 1914 over 100 new dances had found their way p. 82). According to Smith, the Texas Tommy and Ballin’ the
in and out of our fashionable ballrooms.” The Syracuse Her- Jack both originated at Purcell’s. (p. 80.)
ald, Syracuse, NY, December 28, 1913, p. 9 listed the follow- 9. Marshall and Jean Stearns, Jazz Dance: The Story of
ing dances under the heading “Freak Dances in Vogue;” American Vernacular Dance. (New York: Da Capo, 1994) p.
The Boston, The Grizzly Bear, Luncheon Lurch, Ten- 128, quoting Gene Harris, an impresario who worked at the
nis Tango, Futurist Twirl, Banana Peel Glide, Turtle Thalia.
Dove, Wilcox Glide, Grape Juice Wallow, The Sea- 10. After it closed as a dance hall, the Thalia became a
sick, The Double Boston, Boston Dip, Pannier Waltz, garage.
The Kitchen Sink, Debutante Dip, Tango Dip, Bunny 11. Herbert Asbury, The Barbary Coast: An Informal His-
Hug, Frisco Rag, Frisco Glide, One Step, Grape Vine, tory of the San Francisco Underworld. (New York : Alfred
Texas Tommy, Aeroplane Dip, Horse Trot, Brazilian Knopf, 1933) p. 296. Belly dances were common in the dance
Maxixe, Fish Walk, The Tiger, The “Cucia,” Tango halls of the Barbary Coast. On page 287 of Asbury’s book he
Dream, Hitchy-Koo, Hesitation Waltz, Boll Weevil tells of a rather odd and humorous finale to the dance:
Wiggle, and Diaphanous Dip. The pièce de résistance of a Barbary Coast variety
Anti-dance critics were appalled at the dances and also at program was the lewd cavorting of a hoochy-coochy
their names. In his book The Social Dance, Adams (Kansas artiste, or the Dance of the Seven Veils as interpreted
City: 1921) p. 24, Dr. R. A. Adams wrote, by a fat and clumsy Salome dancer, who simply wig-
gled a muscle dance to semi-classical music. Occa-
God made man upright; He gave him pre-eminence sionally a few of the veils were omitted, and the
and dominion over the beasts of the field and the dancer squirmed and twisted in very scanty raiment
creeping things of the earth; He gave to man reason indeed. For some curious reason, perhaps to show
and understanding, lifting him above other creatures that her strength and agility were not confined
of his hand-make. Yet, so utterly depraved has man entirely to her abdominal muscles, the Salome dancer
become and so unappreciative of the distinction almost invariably concluded her performance by
accorded him that he comes down from his high gripping a chair between her teeth and swinging it
pedestal to imitate the beasts of the field and the about her head.
chickens of the barnyard. It is a sad reflection of this
Nation that they should run out of dance steps and 12. In addition to the Thalia, other well-known dance halls
dance names and come down to the level of the in the areas included the Hippodrome, the U.S. Café, the
brutes whose sexual actions they imitate in what are Jupiter, Coppa’s, the Golden City, the Folies Cabaret, the
called animal dances. White House, the House of All Nations, the Dragon, the Bella
2. “All New York Now Madly Whirling in the Tango” The Union, the Cave, the Comstock, the Golden Star, the Turk-
New York Times, January 4, 1914, Section: Magazine Section, ish Café, the O. K. Café, the Ivy Café, the Moulin Rouge, the
P. SM8. California Dance Hall, Spider Kelly’s, the Red Mill, the
3. “Texas Tommy (dance)” November 12, 2006 http:// Bohemian Café, the Dance Hall, the Bear, the Manila, the Queen Dance Hall, the So Different, the Olympia Café, the
_tommy_dance/ Frisco, the Old California, the Scandinavian Dance Hall,
4. “Origin and Spread of the Vivacious ‘Turkey Trot’” Thorne’s, the Criterion, the Headlight; the Belvidere, Lom-
The Anaconda Standard, Anaconda, Montana, February 11, bardi’s, Dew Drop Inn, Purcell’s, Dutch Emma’s, Squeeze
1912, p. 25. Inn, the Owl Dance Hall; the Admiral, the Cascade, Menio’s,
5. Ibid. the Palms, Marconi’s, the Elko, and the Neptune Palace.
6. Ibid. According to Erenberg’s book Steppin’ Out, p. 20, “San
7. “Tango Is Inherited From the Savages” Anaconda Stan- Francisco’s Barbary Coast in 1910 had over 300 [dance halls]
dard, Anaconda, Montana, February 15, 1914, p. 31, col. 4. in a six-block radius, while the South Side of Chicago in the
Professor Oscar Duryea also theorized that the modern same year had over 285. New York’s Tenderloin and Bowery
dances were really “the outgrowth of the most barbaric of the and the French Quarter in New Orleans had similar numbers
dances the red overlords of North America participated in and types of dance halls.”
long before Christopher Columbus and for some time after 13. Asbury, p. 287.
him.” The professor reasoned; 14. Asbury, p. 286.
15. Ibid.
[M]en and women of today who love the modern 16. “History of Turkey Trot and The Gavotte Pavlowa”
dances must be in reality savages at heart; that civi- Wichita Daily Times, Wichita, TX, February 22, 1914, p. 14,
lization has only glossed over their inherent instincts col. 1.
and that their inner selves are finding an outlet for 17. Asbury, p. 297.
their real inclinations through the dances that are 18. Asbury, p. 298. In the last months of 1908, the Rev. Ter-
really an outgrowth of the orgies in which their ear- ence Caraher, known by Barbary Coast habitués as “Terrible
lier predecessors indulged years ago. Terry,” began a crusade to close down the nickel dance halls.
Oscar Duryea fought to refine modern dances. Around 1914, Supported by the secretary of the Board of Police Commission-
he standardized the fox trot under the auspices of the “Amer- ers and several businessmen, by the end of 1910 Caraher was
ican Society of Professors of Dancing” and introduced the able to see the last of the nickel dance-halls abolished.
modified version to the public. The toned downed version 19. Johnny Peters had traveled East to New York with his
replaced exhausting trotting steps with more accessible glid- dancing partner Mary Dewson in Al Jolsen’s troupe. Upon
ing steps. Duryea’s promotion of the easier, less-vulgar fox reaching New York in 1912, Dewson became ill and Peters
trot probably saved the dance from dying out as the other rag teamed up with Ethel Williams. The two entered many dance
dances eventually did. contests around the city and performed in a cabaret act at
8. Lew Purcell and Sam King started the club and named Bustanoby’s on 39th and Broadway, where they danced the
it The Ivy. When their partnership dissolved, Purcell opened tango, maxixe, one-step, waltz, and Texas Tommy. Accord-
his own place and called it Purcell’s. It was located at 520 ing to Williams, Irene Castle saw the duo at the restaurant
Pacific Street in one of the first buildings erected after the and hired Williams to teach her some steps. In 1913, Peters
San Francisco earthquake. The dance-hall was next to a place and Williams appeared in My Friend From Kentucky, better
called Spider Kelly’s, considered at the time to be “the low- known as The Darktown Follies, at the Lafayette Theatre in
est, most rotten dive in the world” (James R. Smith. San Harlem, considered by some to be the most important musi-
204 Notes — Chapter 7

cal of that decade. Peters and Williams performed a number stick it out for her [Hite’s] sake. What he may lack in histri-
called “The Texas Tommy.” The show also featured the tango onic ability — and that is little — he makes up for in an expres-
and the cakewalk, and in the finale of the show, in a number sion of benign good nature.” In addition to starring in the
called “At the Ball, That’s All,” the cast introduced the dance production, Mabel Hite also wrote the music and lyrics to the
Ballin’ the Jack. The number was a circle dance based on the third act finale entitled “You’re Going to Lose Your Hus-
Ring Shout and as the cast snaked around the stage, Ethel band.” This song later became fodder for the gossip columns
Williams brought up the rear, pretending to be out of breath when Hite and Donlin had marital troubles.
and improvising crazy steps and mugging, a practice later 5. Joseph C. Smith was born in 1875, one of ten children
used by Josephine Baker in Shuffle Along. After seeing the of the famous American dancer George Washington Smith.
production, Florence Ziegfeld bought the number in its His mother disapproved of the theatre and made each of her
entirety to put in his Follies of 1914. He hired Ethel Williams children promise they would not pursue it as a career. Nev-
to teach the dance to his cast, but did not hire her to perform ertheless, Joseph’s father gave him a thorough training in all
in his production uptown at the roof garden of the New York the theatrical arts. He was trained as a harlequin, ballet
Theater. dancer, and was proficient in the use of swords and the quar-
20. “Origin and Spread of the Vivacious ‘Turkey Trot’” ter staff. He was also a trick rider and could stand on a horse’s
The Anaconda Standard, Anaconda, Montana, February 11, back without support, a trick he quickly learned because he
1912, p. 25. was whipped if he fell off. His training was rigorous and he
21. “Turkey Trot Was a Cowboy Dance” The Milford Mail, became so adept and skillful at controlling his body, he once
Milford, Iowa, April 3, 1913, p. 2, col. 2. fell forty feet off a suspension wire and was able to land on
22. “‘Grizzly Bear’ Old Greek” The New York Times, the stage and only sustain a few bruises. He did not pursue
August 31, 1913, Section: Foreign News Financial Business his theatrical career until after his mother’s death, when he
Sports Want Advertisements, p. C1. became one of the most popular performers on the stage. His
23. “Origin of Turkey Trot” The San Antonio Light, San versatility allowed him to dance in classical ballets at La Scala
Antonio, TX, September 14, 1913, p. 8, col. 7. The same arti- in Milan and perform as a show dancer on Broadway. He
cle stated, “It was from this Pompeiian glide that the Span- choreographed and performed in several Broadway produc-
ish fandango originated, the French cotillion and the waltz, tions and claimed that he had introduced both the turkey trot
along with little parts of other terpsichorean creations.” It and tango on the Broadway stage. In 1907 in the Ziegfeld Fol-
also states women in ancient Abyssinia (present day Ethiopia) lies he introduced the apache dance with Louise Alexander.
“danced in a circle, shaking their shoulders, wagging their (This information is from Paul Magriel’s book, Chronicles of
elbows and wiggling after the manner of the exaggerated the American Dance, p. 187. Neither Smith, nor Alexander
turkey trot.” are listed as performers in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1907 credits
24. “Turkey Trot New? Danced 500 Years in Borneo” The on the Internet Broadway database, although Smith is listed
Iowa Recorder, Greene, Iowa, September 25, 1912, p. 2, col. as staging some of the numbers. The site does credit him as
4. an apache dancer in The Queen of the Moulin Rouge which
25. “Origin of Modern Eccentric Dances Traced to Under- opened in 1908.) Smith is credited with being the first man
world” The San Antonio Light, San Antonio, TX, December to dance in public in formal evening clothes. The event took
14, 1913, p. 34, col. 1. The quote continues, “The probability place in London when he arrived late to the theatre for a per-
is that some unknown and unnamed burglar, picket-pocket, formance one evening and ran on stage without changing.
yeggman or police ‘stool pigeon,’ frequenter of the Barbary The audience response was so favorable, the theatre manager
Coast, deserves the rather questionable honor.” asked him to continue wearing the outfit during the run.
26. “Turkey Trot Was a Cowboy Dance” The Milford Mail, Smith was married to Frances Demarest, a singer. The two
Milford, Iowa, April 3, 1913, p. 2, col. 2. worked together in the Broadway production of Madame
27. “The Turkey Trot” The Daily Courier, Connellsville, Sherry, a show in which Smith staged a polka for the hit num-
PA January 22, 1912, p. 4, col. 3. ber, “Every Little Movement Has a Meaning of Its Own.” In
28. Ibid. 1910 Smith staged the floor show at Maxine’s Café Madrid,
29. Ibid. According to the article, the turkey trot met with said to be the first show of its kind in New York, setting a
the agent’s approval and he took the dance back to his ruler trend that fostered the spread of ragtime dancing. In Decem-
in Turkey. ber of 1932, Joseph C. Smith was killed by a truck while he
was crossing the street at Madison Avenue and Thirty-Fourth
6. Mabel Hite was born in Ashland, Kentucky and first
Chapter 7 appeared on the stage in an amateur production of Gilbert
and Sullivan’s Iolanthe at age eleven. A popular favorite in
1. The New York Times claimed in one article that rag vaudeville, her professional credits also included A Milk
dances were first performed in the Bowery in New York. It White Flag, The Telephone Girl, A Knight for a Day and A
stated, “...the ‘rag’ flourished in the east side dance halls, Certain Party. In 1909, Hite married professional baseball
whence it was taken by sailors around the horn to the Bar- player Mike Donlin and the two performed in vaudeville in
bary Coast of San Francisco.” It is possible that rag dances a musical skit called “Stealing Home.” She died on October
developed concurrently on both coasts although San Fran- 22, 1912 in New York at the home of her mother at age twenty-
cisco generally claims credit for being the instigator of the seven of intestinal cancer. In a bizarre twist to her life story,
ragtime craze. on November 28, 1915, a man walked into Murray’s Restau-
2. “Origin and Spread of the Vivacious ‘Turkey Trot’” rant on Forty-Second Street near Seventh Avenue and left a
The Anaconda Standard, Anaconda, Montana, February 11, brown paper package at the checkroom, making an off-
1912, p. 25. handed comment to Jack Bess the boy at the check counter.
3. “Brought ‘Tango’ to America” The New York Times, He said “Don’t drop it, or it will blow up the place.” Con-
January 17, 1914, p. 8. cerned that he had been give a bomb, the checkroom boy told
4. A Certain Party opened at Wallack’s Theatre on April the manager about the suspicious package. The manager gin-
24, 1911 and ran through May 13, 1911. In the show Mabel gerly took the parcel to an empty café next door and dropped
Hite’s character, Norah, danced with Mike Donlin’s charac- it in a bucket of water, then called the police. They sent two
ter, James Barrett, at the end of the second act to a song writ- detectives, who then summoned the Inspector of the Bureau
ten by Tom Kelly. The review in The New York Times, April of Combustibles, Owen Egan. Egan moved the suspicious
25, 1911, p. 13, stated, “Mr. Donlin, it must be confessed, package to an abandoned excavation site nearby and carefully
looked as if he’d much rather be on a ball field, but would removed the paper wrapping. Underneath he found a bronze
Notes—Chapter 7 205

urn with the engraving “Mabel Hite Donlin, Died Oct. 22, done by Lane and Hunter is in the article “Origin and Spread
1912.” The receptacle was Hite’s cremation urn and still con- of the Vivacious ‘Turkey Trot’” credited earlier.
tained her ashes. The man who had checked the urn was Ray 17. “Origin and Spread of the Vivacious ‘Turkey Trot’”
E. Frye, the manager of a mortuary who was personally The Anaconda Standard, Anaconda, Montana, February 11,
entrusted with the ashes by Hite’s husband Mike Donlin. He 1912, p. 25.
was moving the urn because his undertaking firm was mov- 18. As one commentator in The New York Times observed
ing to a new columbarium. (This information was extracted in 1914, “If you wanted to keep your restaurant open, it
from The New York Times, November 29, 1915, p. 6.) seemed you were almost compelled to put in a cabaret show
7. Mike Donlin was born on May 30, 1878, in Erie, Penn- of some kind.” An article in The Atlanta Constitution,
sylvania (other sources say Peoria, Illinois.) Known as (Atlanta, GA, September 13, 1914, p. 43, col. 3.), that spoke
“Turkey Mike” because of the way he strutted on the field, of how the dancing craze was gripping that city stated,
he became a professional baseball player in Santa Cruz, Cal- “Unless we dine at home, our meals will be punctuated by
ifornia in 1899 as a pitcher and later moved to San Jose in trots....”
1900 when the team franchise was sold. He was moved to the 19. Lewis Erenberg, Steppin’Out: New York Nightlife and
outfield and played with the St. Louis Cardinals until 1903, the Transformation of American Culture, 1890–1930. (Chicago:
when he was sold to Cincinnati. In 1904, he joined the New University of Chicago Press, 1981) p. 123.
York Giants, eventually becoming team captain. He played 20. Julie Malnig, Dancing Till Dawn: A Century of Exhi-
with the Giants until 1910 and was said to be, “ of the bition Ballroom Dance. (New York : New York University
greatest natural hitters in the game.” He left baseball after Press, 1992) p. 8, quoting George Rector.
he married Mabel Hite in 1909 and toured the vaudeville cir- 21. Erenberg, p. 132, quoting George Rector.
cuit with her as a singer and dancer. In 1914 he returned to 22. “All New York Now Madly Whirling in the Tango”
the diamond to play with the Boston Braves, and then moved The New York Times, January 4, 1914, Section: Magazine
to the Pittsburgh Pirates. After the first World War, he moved Section, P. SM8.
to Hollywood and appeared in motion pictures. Athlete’s 23. Ibid.
heart led to his retirement in 1927 and motion picture and 24. Ibid.
stage performers had a benefit minstrel show to raise money 25. “Social Sanity Threatened, Says Our Foremost Psy-
to send him to the Mayo Clinic for an operation. After Mabel chologist” Lima Daily News, Lima, OH, May 31, 1914, p. 17,
Hite’s death in 1912, Donlin remarried Rita Ross in 1914. Mike quoting Professor Hugo Muensterberg of Harvard Univer-
Donlin died at age fifty-six in Los Angeles, California on Sep- sity.
tember 24, 1933 of a heart attack. 26. Joan Sawyer was born Cincinnati, Ohio around 1880.
8. “Brought ‘Tango’ to America” The New York Times, Her given name was Bessie J. Morrison. She was raised in El
January 17, 1914, p. 8. Paso Texas by a family called the Waltons and for a while
9. Ibid. took the name Bessie Walton. She returned to Ohio to attend
10. Over the River ran at the Globe Theatre from 1/8/1912 school and at age fifteen decided to pursue a career in show
through 4/20/ 1912 for a total of 120 performances. The show business. In 1902, she had a short marriage to Alvah Sawyer,
was produced by Charles Dillingham and Florence Ziegfeld, keeping his last name throughout her career. Success eluded
Jr., and starred vaudevillian Eddie Foy. Joseph C. Smith her until 1907 when she appeared as a chorus girl in a pro-
played a character named Charles Bigroll and was featured duction called The Vanderbilt Cup. This was followed by other
in a number called “The Tongo Dance.” The Anaconda Stan- small parts in The Hurdy Gurdy Girl in 1907 and The Merry
dard, Anaconda, Montana, February 11, 1912, p. 25, wrote, Go Round in 1908. She first achieved real public notice when
“Lillian Lor[r]aine, with Joseph C. Smith, dances the tango, she hit the headlines by filing a $100,000 breach of promise
which is a variation of the turkey trot, every night at Eddie suit against millionaire playboy Byron Chandler, claiming he
Foy’s show, “Over the River,” at the Globe theater, and extra had taken advantage of her with a promise of marriage. She
help had to be hired to count the money.” Exhibition dancer lost the case when the defendant’s lawyers pointed out that
Monsieur Maurice also appeared in the show in a number she was already married. In 1911, real success finally found
called “The Maurice Rag.” Sawyer when she was discovered by popular ballroom dancer
11. “Origin and Spread of the Vivacious ‘Turkey Trot’” Maurice Mouvet. The two teamed up at Louis Martin’s Café’
The Anaconda Standard, Anaconda, Montana, February 11, de Opera for a short time. After that Sawyer appeared in other
1912, p. 25 top cabarets around New York. In 1913, agent William Mor-
12. Ibid. ris signed her and she was offered a contract to dance at his
13. Ibid. Jardin de Danse at the New York Theatre. The engagement
14. Ibid. was hugely successful and she was soon in top demand
15. Ibid. Ziegfeld did credit Mabel Hite with being the first around the city. While continuing to perform at the Jardin
to introduced rag dancing on Broadway. The article states, de Danse, she was offered a huge salary by Geroge Rector to
“Miss Hite had beaten him to it by a few weeks. She had paid do her act at his place. Rector also paid William Morris an
the San Francisco exponents of a new art $100 a week to teach enormous fee to “borrow” their star. She moved to the Shu-
her and Michael to rock and undulate. Therefore, Miss Hite berts’ Persian Garden in January 1914 in an elegantly deco-
was the first to put the dance on.... Even theater managers like rated room with an entrance sign in lights that read, “Joan
Ziegfeld, who has [sic] nothing to gain by advertising an artist Sawyer’s Persian Garden.” It was a huge hit and a popular spot
not in his troupe, admits that credit has to be slipped to Mrs. for the upper set during afternoon teas or after the theatre.
Dolin for introducing the turkey to New York” Sawyer herself danced nightly with a variety of partners from
16. Little Miss Fix-It opened on Broadway on April 3, 1911 11:00 P.M. to 1:00 A.M., except Sundays, sometimes perform-
at the Globe Theatre and ran through May 20, 1911. It later ing at afternoon tea dances as well. In addition, she super-
reopened at the Grand Opera House in November 27, 1911 vised all dance contests and taught lessons there. Sawyer had
and had a short run into December of the same year. It starred her own private black orchestra led by Dan Kildare. The Clef
Nora Bayes. (Interestingly, this show opened three weeks Club Orchestra, as it was called, not only accompanied
before A Certain Party. It is uncertain when Lane’s and Sawyers’s dancing at the Persian Garden, but also recorded a
Hunter’s turkey trot was inserted into the show. James C. series of dance records for Columbia. (Kildare was not cred-
Lane is listed in the opening night credits but Edna Hunter ited and the recordings were marketed as Joan Sawyer’s Per-
is not. The only musical number that lists Lane is “no More sian Garden Orchestra, “recorded under the personal
Staying Out Late,” but this is listed as being danced by Lane supervision of Joan Sawyer.” )(Tim Brooks. Lost Sounds:
and the men of the chorus only. Edna Hunter was in the cast Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry. Champaign, IL:
of Over the River in 1912.) The reference to the trot being University of Illinois Press, 2005, p. 305.) When Maurice
206 Notes — Chapter 7

Mouvet and his partner Florence Walton began performing Again, Valentino’s name was dragged through the mud. He
at The Persian Room, one floor below The Persian Garden, changed his name from Rodolfo Guglielmi and moved to
attendance at her club slipped and Sawyer did not renew her Hollywood to avoid further scandal. After his success in
contract with the Shuberts. In the summer of 1914, she toured motion pictures, the film studios arranged to have Valentino’s
vaudeville, taking Kildare and his orchestra with her, until police records concerning the event destroyed. In 1918, a
she was stopped by “appendicitis” and had to return to New silent movie was made based on the case. It was called The
York in mid–August of that same year. The real story involved Woman and the Law. In 1940, Blanca de Saulles committed
a scandal when Joan abruptly dropped her fiancé Edwin suicide.
Finney. Finney had met Sawyer at the Persian Gardens where 29. Mae Murray was born Marie Adrienne Koenig in
she taught him how to dance. Finney showered the dancer Portsmouth, Virginia, on May 10, 1889. She made her Broad-
with gifts, including spending $400.00 a month for an auto- way debut in 1906 in About Town, a show whose cast also
mobile for her. The two were engaged and plans were made included Vernon Castle. She was hired to be in the chorus of
for Finney to join her act as her dance partner for shows in the Ziegfeld Follies in 1908 and later performed in other Fol-
Boston and Philadelphia. Plans were dropped when Sawyer lies productions. She eventually became a featured performer,
suddenly took “ill” and broke off the engagement. In truth, and was nicknamed by Ziegfeld as “the girl with the bee-
she had learned that he did not have an income of $40,000 a stung lips.” Her biggest break came in 1910, when she replaced
year as he claimed, but only brought in about $3,000 annu- Irene Castle in Watch Your Step. She invented many dances.
ally. A staunch suffragist, Sawyer also grabbed national head- While doing a featured part in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1915, she
lines in 1914 when, accompanied by a dance partner, was spotted by Adolph Zukor, who was scouting for new tal-
chauffeur, mechanic and chaperon, she drove across country ent for the silent movies. She signed with Paramount Pic-
with a suffragist banner attached to her car. The Fort Wayne tures and ended up starring in several films. Her biggest
Journal-Gazette, (Fort Wayne, IN, July 4, 1915, p, 39, col. 6.) success came with the film version of The Merry Widow in
reported, 1923. She appeared in two films with Rudolph Valentino. In
the late 20’s her career began to falter and she eventually
Joan Sawyer, who is adding to her fame as a dancer a
ended up destitute. Murray died on March 23, 1965 in Wood-
national reputation as a motorist and a advocate for
land Hills, California of heart failure. It is rumored that direc-
suffrage, created considerable excitement in Detroit
tor Billy Wilder used Murray as the inspiration for the
when she arrived there on her trans-continental tour
character of Norma Desmond in his movie Sunset Boulevard.
across the continent from New York to San Francisco.
30. Malnig, p. 21.
In 1917, Joan Sawyer appeared in a silent film entitled Love’s 31. The site of the Folies Marigny later became the home
Law. of Castles in the Air, the club owned by Vernon and Irene
27. According to an article in the San Antonio Evening Castle.
News, (San Antonio, TX, January 27, 1923. p, 7, col. 2), John 32. Clifton Webb was born in Beech Grove, Indiana, on
Jarrot (also spelled Jarrott, was one of the top dancers in the November 11, 1889. He was christened Webb Parmelee Hol-
business. The article states, “Jarrott “made” Joan Sawyer, lenbeck. His mother left her husband, a railroad ticket clerk,
Bonnie Glass, Mae Murray and other stars of the Texas because he didn’t “care for the theatre” and moved with her
Tommy generation” According to one source Jarrot was mar- son to New York where at age five, Webb began dance les-
ried to Joan Sawyer at one time. He appeared in George M. sons. He made his stage debut at Carnegie Hall in a produc-
Cohan’s production of The Yankee Consul and was a sought tion of The Brownies at age seven. He then toured vaudeville,
after performer in vaudeville and on the cabaret circuit. Jar- and landed leading roles in Oliver Twist and Huckleberry Finn.
rot developed a serious drug habit that eventually ruined He studied voice as well as dancing and by seventeen was
him. As one of society’s top dancers he had commanded a singing secondary leads with the Aborn Opera Company in
salary of at least $1,000 a week, but his habit eventually made Boston. At nineteen he adopted the stage name Clifton Webb
him destitute. In addition, Jarrot was heir to acres of land in and began his career as a professional ballroom dancer. He
the oil rich district of Texas, but lost it for non-payment of performed in numerous Broadway shows, toured in vaude-
taxes. He hit bottom in 1923, when he was sentenced to six ville, and also performed in a few silent movies. In his fifties,
months in the workhouse on Blackwell’s Island for stealing he was chosen to act in Otto Preminger’s 1944 classic Laura,
an overcoat worth $25.00. He confessed to the judge he had a role that won him an Oscar. He had a successful movie
stolen the coat to sell it and make money to buy drugs. Near career, winning two other Academy Awards. He died of a
the end of his life, he worked as a doorman at some of the heart attack at age 76 in Beverly Hills, California on October
clubs where he had once headlined. In June of 1938, John Jar- 13, 1966.
rot was admitted to Bellevue Hospital with pneumonia, giv- 33. Malnig, p. 23.
ing his name as John Garrett. He succumbed to the disease 34. John Murray Anderson was born on September 20,
on June 14, 1938 at age 55. Many sources credit Jarrot with 1886 in St. John’s, Newfoundland. He was educated at Bishop
introducing the turkey trot with his partner Louise Gruen- Field College and then studied at Edinburgh Academy in
ning at Ray Jones café in Chicago around 1909. Scotland and Lausanne University in Switzerland. After
28. While partnering Sawyer, Valentino became entangled working as an antiques dealer in New York City, he turned
in a sex scandal involving himself, Sawyer, athlete and real to theatre. He opened a dance studio called the John Murray
estate broker John “Jack” de Saulles, and de Saulles’ million- Anderson school of Theater and Dance on East 58th Street
aire wife Blanca. It is rumored that Joan Sawyer was having and trained many young actors and dancers. In 1914, he met
an affair with de Saulles, and Valentino, smitten with Blanca, Genevieve Lyon of Chicago. The two wed and formed a dance
agreed to testify for her in her divorce proceedings against act. When Lyon developed tuberculosis, the couple moved to
her husband. De Saulles retaliated by having Valentino Arizona for her health. She passed away from the disease in
arrested at a nearby brothel. The charges against Valentino 1916. Anderson returned to New York and applied to enter
were bogus and eventually he was released, but the publicity the U.S. military and was accepted. Later he turned to pro-
hurt him and no one would hire him. Even worse, Blanca ducing and earned the nicknames, “King of the Revues,” and
would not speak with him. In August of 1917, Blanca de “Uncle Broadway.” During his career, he produced thirty-
Saulles got into an argument with her estranged husband four major musical comedies and revues including three edi-
over custody of their son. She held a gun to his head and tions of the Ziegfeld Follies (1934, 1936, 1943), Life Begins at
demanded he hand over the child. In the ensuing struggle, 8:40 (1934), Billy Rose’s Jumbo (1935), One for the Money
she shot him five times. Charged with first-degree murder, (1939), Two for the Show (1940), Three to Make Ready (1946),
the trial that followed created a national sensation, even and New Faces of 1952. He also staged seven circuses for Rin-
bumping news of the First World War off the front pages. gling Brothers, four Aquacades for Billy Rose, eleven pag-
Notes—Chapter 7 207

eants, sixty-one stage productions for movie houses, and at Accounts differ as to when they danced together. Some say
least twenty-for major nightclub extravaganzas. In 1930 he before he paired with Walton and others say before Made-
directed the film King of Jazz. He also wrote the screenplay laide.) His next partner was Leonora Hughes, a former tele-
for Ziegfeld Follies (1946). Anderson died on January 30, 1954 phone operator, but she left the act to marry Argentine
in New York. millionaire Carlos Ortiz Balsualdo in 1925. Mouvet then
35. The Dolly Sisters were born Rosika (Rose) and Jansci teamed up with Barbara Bennett, sister of movie star Con-
(Jenny) Deutsch on October 25, 1892 in Budapest, Hungary. stance Bennett. They separated within the year after quar-
They emigrated to the United States in 1905, and began danc- reling over money matters, and Mouvet hired Eleanor
ing in beer halls around 1907 in a tandem act. They toured Ambrose, daughter of a Kansas City oil man, to replace her.
on the Orpheum circuit until 1909, then joined the Keith cir- In 1926, the two were wed in Paris and danced at the St.
cuit where they performed until 1911. They were eventually Moritz until consumption forced Mouvet to move to the Alps
signed by Florence Ziegfeld and worked in the Follies for two for his health. Mouvet died on May 18, 1927 of tuberculosis
seasons. The sisters also toured Europe, and made a few silent at the Hotel Savoy in Lausanne, Switzerland. His wife Eleanor
films. The two sometimes appeared with male partners in Ambrose and his brother Oscar were with him. In October
competing acts to boost ticket sales. Jenny married Harry of 1927, Maurice Mouvet’s father was arrested for trying to
Fox, who is credited with inventing the foxtrot. Known for smuggle 750 pounds of opium into the United States. His
their luck at gambling, they won $850,000 in one season at wife, Mouvet’s mother, claimed he had been acting strangely
Deauville. Jenny later won 4 million francs at Cannes. She after his son’s death and his actions were a result of grief. He
bought jewelry with her winnings and then went on to win was subsequently released because after his arrest, the seized
another 11 million more. In 1933, Jenny was nearly killed in drugs were analyzed, and it turned out there was no opium
an automobile accident near Bordeaux, France, when her car in the packages, just cheap chemicals created to look like
fell over a cliff. Her recovery took six weeks and required at opium with the intention of duping the opium buyers.
least fifteen surgeries, which she paid for her by selling most 38. “Maurice and the New Dances” The New York Times,
her jewelry. She never did recover emotionally from the acci- January 25, 1912, p. 10.
dent and suffered from horrible depression afterwards. On 39. The danse des Apaches or Apache dance supposedly got
May 1, 1941 she committed suicide, hanging herself in the its name after a Parisian journalist reported a scuffle outside
shower of her apartment in the Shelton Hotel. Rosie herself a Montmartre nightclub. He wrote, “The fury of a riotous
attempted suicide in 1962, but failed. She died heart failure incident (a fight) between two men and a woman rose to the
on January 1, 1970. ferocity of savage Apache Indians in battle.” The trio involved
36. Erenberg, p. 165. in the fight proudly accepted the association with savages and
37. Maurice Oscar Louis Mouvet was born in the Chelsea soon Parisian gangs were calling themselves les Apaches. The
district of New York on March 18, 1889. The family, of Bel- gangs, also known as “the Gunmen of Paris,” recreated the
gian descent, moved to London when he was nine and at age fight scenario while dancing in Paris’ many caveau des inno-
fourteen to Paris where Mouvet worked as an auto mechanic cents, or underworld cabarets, and the dance was also dubbed
and a chauffeur. On the way to work, he passed a famous the “The Dance of the Underworld.” The pantomime dance,
French restaurant, and Mouvet wheedled the doorman into which told the story of a struggle between a pimp and his
letting him look inside to watch the dancers. He had his first prostitute, or the raging jealousy of two lovers, was usually
professional dance training at another cabaret, Noveau accompanied by tango or slow waltz music. It often involved
Cirque, at age 15, where he convinced the manager to engage violent pushing, slapping, dragging, throwing, or threaten-
him as a dancer after he demonstrated a few cakewalk steps. ing the partner with a knife. Although a brutal dance, it was
His love of dancing caused him to frequent the cafes and stylized to convey primitive passion instead of vulgarity. High
restaurants of Montmartre. He danced at the Royale and pre- society slummers became fascinated with the dance and for
sented an act comprised of the cakewalk, polka, and two- a brief while there were attempts to use it as a social dance,
step. He studied the waltz at the Bal Tabarin and began but its extreme physical demands caused it to remain an exhi-
looking for a dancing partner. He was eventually offered a job bition dance. Due to the dangerous lifts and throws utilized
dancing in Vienna at the Casino Theatre, where he performed in presenting the apache, some women suffered broken necks
with two female partners. Whenever he was not performing, and backs and died while performing. According to Irene
he visited other clubs, studying the Viennese waltz. He later Castle (Castles in the Air, p. 59.) Maurice Mouvet’s first wife
performed in Budapest and Monte Carlo. Upon returning to died performing the dance. The apache dance lifts were used
Paris, he formed a partnership with a woman by the name of in the Texas Tommy, and later became part of the Lindy Hop
Leona and the couple was hired to dance at the Café de Paris. and Jitterbug. In his book, Maurice’s Art of Dancing, p. 35,
His successes in Paris, especially as a proponent of the apache Maurice Mouvet wrote about the apache dance. He said, “It
dance, led to invitations for Mouvet to dance before all the is I suppose, an intensely brutal dance, but it is not vulgar
major crowned heads of Europe except the Emperor of Ger- with deliberate vulgarity. It is a dance of realism, of primi-
many. In 1910, he was offered a contract with Louis Martin’s tive passion; as a picture of life in the raw it has beauty and
Café de Paris in New York City with his new partner Made- artistic strength.”
laide D’Arville. (Leona had died of pneumonia.) Initially the 40. The “Gunmen of Paris” were real gang members and
team only danced the Viennese waltz and Argentine tango, although most used knives instead of guns, they were a dan-
fearing that if they did the apache, the club would be raided gerous lot. Their women were used to distract unsuspecting
by the police, but later began including the dance in late- men who were then attacked, robbed, and brutalized. The
night performances. The team joined the cast of Over the most famous of these gangs was Les Apaches. As the apache
River, but then D’Arville eloped after a Tuesday night per- dance became popular, the ladies of Parisian high society
formance leaving Mouvet unable to perform the following would hire the most notorious hooligans to teach them to
day for the matinee. The show’s producer Florence Ziegfeld dance — the more bloodthirsty the criminal, the more they
called Movet into his office at 7:00 P.M. the next evening and were paid. Some of these men included Jules Jacques, also
introduced him to Florence Walton. With only a half hour of called “the Tiger,” Little Scarlip, Louis the Strangler, and
rehearsal, the two went on that night. They went on to Raoul the Butcher. The men not only taught the ladies to
become one of the most successful ballroom exhibition teams, dance but also entertained them with sensational tales of the
rivaling Vernon and Irene Castle. They married in 1911 and many throats they had cut.
performed together around the world. Mouvet and Walton 41. The apache was supposedly brought to the United
eventually divorced in 1920. (Mouvet also trained amateur States by Joseph C. Smith around 1904.
dancer Joan Sawyer. They were engaged, but their partner- 42. Florence Walton was born in 1891 in Wilmington,
ship also dissolved when Sawyer married someone else. Delaware. She first appeared on the stage in Philadelphia in
208 Notes — Chapter 7

Miss Bob White as a young Quaker girl. In 1907, she appeared My heart skipped a beat. My mind immediately began
in the chorus of a musical comedy called The Girl Behind the to make plans and weave schemes. I was meeting a
Counter. Florence Ziegfeld then hired her as specialty dancer real actor for the first time, and to further my excite-
in his 1908 production of Miss Innocence. In 1911, she danced ment, he was associated with Lew Fields, one of the
in The Pink Lady and in February 1912, while she was rehears- top names on the Broadway stage. I felt sure if Lew
ing for her next show, The Rose Maid, the show’s producer, Fields could be persuaded to take one look at my danc-
Florence Ziegfeld suggested her as a replacement for Mau- ing, my career would be on its way [Castle, pp.31–32].
rice Mouvet’s act, since Mouvet had lost his partner. The two
became one of ballroom’s premiere dance couples. They mar- The two began dating, and Irene and Vernon quickly fell in
ried in 1911 and dance together until their divorce in 1920. love. They were married on May 28, 1911. Lew Fields discour-
Walton died in 1981. aged Vernon from pursuing a career in dancing, believing he
43. Malnig, p. 42. had more potential as a comedian. He did help Irene get small
44. Irene Castle described the couple as follows; parts in various musicals. In 1911, they did decide to put a
dance act together. They showed it to Fields who was not
Maurice was ill-tempered, a dark little man who
impressed and left the room without saying a word even
looked Latin and had a hundred legends surrounding
before they had finished their demonstration. When con-
him. He waltzed beautifully and had undoubtedly
fronted by Vernon, Field’s retorted, “Who’s going to pay to
taught Florence everything she knew. She was a little
see a man dance with his wife?” They couple abandoned their
wooden from the waist up, but she had lovely legs
plans for a dance act. In 1911, when the opportunity arose for
and handled them beautifully [Castle, p. 60].
Vernon to appear in comical sketches in Paris, the Castles
45. Newspaper accounts of the wedding of Leonora traveled to France. Troubles hounded the production and the
Hughes to cattle tycoon Don Carlos Ortiz Balsualdo reported opening was delayed several weeks. Vernon Castle received
that Maurice Mouvet wept uncontrollably during the cere- no pay during the wait and soon the couple was out of money,
mony, moaning over and over again, “I cannot bear it! How depending on their servant’s luck at craps to bring in enough
could she do this to me?” He was only mollified when after funds to keep them fed. Vernon’s show finally opened, but
the ceremony, while processing down the aisle, the bride sat conditions at the theatre were so dreadful, Vernon quit in
in the pew with him and consoled him. The couple then disgust. Desperation led them to hire themselves out as exhi-
invited Mouvet to the wedding breakfast, with Maurice and bition dancers at Louis Barraya’s Café de Paris. Their first
the bride going in one car and the groom following in a sec- impromptu appearance was a huge hit, and after several suc-
ond car. When he saw the couple off at the train station as cessful successive weeks at the club, they received offers to
they left for their honeymoon, he broke down again. Mou- perform at private parties attended by some of the most
vet was heard to remark, “Losing your dance partner is much influential people in Europe. They also drew the attention of
worse than losing your business partner or wife. If you lose some of America’s top theatrical producers. In May 1912, with
your partner, you carry on your business somehow. If your the death of Irene’s father, the couple left Paris and returned
wife leaves you, you go on with your work, even if your heart to the United States. They were approached to recreate their
is broken. But when a man’s dancing partner leaves him his act at the Café de l’Opera in Manhattan, and there, met lit-
heart and his business both go smash!” After the Balsuados erary agent Elisabeth Marbury. Under her guidance, the cou-
went on their honeymoon, Mouvet held auditions for a new ple became the darlings of New York. By 1914, the couple were
partner. The newspaper reported, “Girls came by the hun- at the height of their fame and popularity, starring in Watch
dreds— tall girls, short girls, brunettes, blondes. Maurice Your Step, and embarking on their Whirlwind Tour of the
danced with every one.” But, Mouvet had no luck. “They United States to teach America the proper way to dance. In
have no fire,” he said, “their feet move, but their hearts never. thirty theatres across the country they demonstrated and
I could not make dancers of them — not in a hundred years.” taught dances to packed houses. The twenty-eight day event
Mouvet was also heard to comment “I will have none but an climaxed at Madison Square Garden where the finalists from
American girl. They do not get fat.” He then added bitterly, dance contests from the various cities performed, with an
“Leonora was getting a little fat.... My new partner must be exhausted Vernon and Irene Castle. As World War I raged in
small and slim.” Maurice Mouvet eventually hired Barbara Ben- Europe, Vernon Castle began to feel concerned about his
nett. Upon hearing the news of his pick Mouvet’s friends said, native country being threatened by Germany. He enlisted in
“Poor Maurice, he’s in for trouble again” (quotes from an arti- the military and after learning to fly was assigned to the Royal
cle entitled “In His Arms, But He Can’t Keep Them There” Canadian Flying Corps. He flew one hundred and fifty dan-
Galveston Daily News, Galveston, Texas, April 14, 1925, p. 8). gerous missions in Europe, and was decorated for his brav-
46. Vernon Castle was born on May 2, 1887 in Norwich, ery. In 1917, he returned to the United States to train young
Norfolk, England. His given name was William Vernon Blyth. aviators. He was killed during a training mission at Benbrook
Irene Castle was born on April 17, 1893 in New Rochelle, New Field near Forth Worth, Texas, on February 15, 1918. After
York. Her given name was Irene Foote. After Vernon Castle Vernon’s death, Irene Castle continued to appear solo in sev-
graduated from Birmingham University School of Engineer- eral stage productions and in several silent movies before
ing, he worked as a magician in clubs and at private parties. retiring. She remarried three more times. She became an avid
He took the last name Castle to avoid confusion with his sis- campaigner for animal rights and formed an Illinois animal
ter Coralie Blythe who was an actress. He first visited the shelter called “Orphans of the Storm” that is still in opera-
United States with his sister and her husband, actor Laurence tion. She died on January 25, 1969 in Eureka Springs,
Grossmith. He was give a bit part in Grossmith’s play and Arkansas. Vernon and Irene Castle are interred together at
decided he liked show business. He went on to work as a cho- the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York.
rus boy in several musicals. He was taken under the wing by 47. Erenberg, p. 159, quoting the Dramatic Mirror, June
producer Lew Fields, an ex-vaudevillian, who helped develop 30, 1915.
Vernon’s comedic skills. In 1909 while vacationing in New 48. Irene Castle, Castles in the Air, (New York: Da Capo,
Rochelle, he met Irene at the pool of the Rowing Club. She 1958) p. 54.
was not romantically interested in him when she first met 49. Castle, pp. 54–55.
him because she thought he was too skinny. Vernon was 5'11" 50. Castle, p. 57.
and weighed only 118 lbs. Drama critics sometimes referred 51. A Russian gentleman offered them a three hundred
to him as “an attenuated green bean,” or “a soda straw with franc tip after that initial performance; Vernon Castle wanted
legs.” But, Irene had been taking dance lessons and was inter- to refuse, but Irene made him accept the tip and soon their
ested in show business, and hoped that he might help her tips exceeded their salary. Irene recalled, “Men in the gen-
gain a foothold in the business. Irene later recalled, tlemen’s room would slip Vernon a thousand francs to show
Notes—Chapter 7 209

their appreciation while their ladies came to my table and the dance performed by the two Castles— Vernon and
slipped me a thousand francs in case their escorts had for- Irene — in the second act. It is an extraordinary exhi-
gotten to do so” (Castle, p. 58). bition of agility, grace and that aerial quality which is
52. The Castles briefly left the Café de Paris when Mau- the chief of all dancing. As preparation for their
rice Mouvet and his partner Florence Walton were given a dances each night behind the scenes both Mr. And
spot dancing at the cabaret at the same time. Mouvet’s first Mrs. Castle give a good ten minutes to a curious
wife, had been killed while doing an Apache dance when kind of limbering up. Before going on the stage each
under the employ of the club’s owner Louis Barraya, and Bar- has a habit of firmly fixing the right foot on a table or
raya had promised Mouvet that if he ever returned to Paris, the back of a chair in such a way that the leg is
he could dance at his club. Barraya hired the team even exactly at right angles with the body. Then standing
though the Castles were a huge success at the time. Mouvet rigidly each dancer bends forward until the face
did not like the Castles, considered them bitter rivals, and one touches the knee — a feat in itself — impossible to the
night after too many drinks, he challenged Vernon to a fight. ordinary being. A half dozen of such “dips” renders
Castle refused, and then they informed the owner that they each dance[r] as flexible as a stick of bamboo.
would no longer perform at the Café until Mouvet’s engage-
58. James Reese Europe was born in Mobile, Alabama in
ment was finished. They took a short vacation and upon
on February 22, 1881. His mother was free-born and his father
returning, were begged by Barraya to return to the club. They
was a slave who later went to law school. James was taught
refused as long as Maurice Mouvet was still there. Barraya
music by his mother and entered show business in 1904 as
fired Mouvet and the Castles started dancing at the Café´de
musical director for all-black musicals. He formed the Clef
Paris again the next evening.
Club, an unofficial union and booking agency for black musi-
53. When Maurice Mouvet and Florence Walton returned
cians. In 1912, Europe made history when his orchestra
from France, Mouvet finagled a contract from his old drink-
became the first jazz band to play at Carnegie Hall, an event
ing buddy Louis Martin to dance on the same bill as the Cas-
that was repeated in 1913 and 1914. Europes’ Society Orches-
tles. The rivalry escalated, this time with an added
tra became the first all-black orchestra to get an American
insult — Florence Walton copied Irene Castle’s gowns down
recording contract when they signed with Victrola Records
to the minutest details. The Castles informed Martin that
in 1913. Europe probably met the Castles in Newport, Rhode
they were considering a better offer from one of his competi-
Island at a party given by Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish on August 22,
tors at the Knickerbocker. Martin promptly fired Mouvet and
1913. They eventually became good friends and their close
Walton and doubled the Castles’ salary. Later, when the Cas-
relationship allowed the Castles entrance into the inside
tles were at the pinnacle of their success, Mouvet challenged
world of black music and black dance. This in turn provided
them to a dance contest to be held at Madison Square Gar-
fresh and innovative material for the couple. During World
dens to determine which couple was the best exhibition ball-
War I, Europe was given a commission in the New York Army
room dance act in the world. Mouvet had rigged the panel of
National guard. He directed the regimental band of the 369th
“impartial judges” with his old friends. The Castles refused
Infantry, known as “Harlem’s Hellfighters” which is some-
the challenge and did not participate.
times credited with introducing the ragtime craze to France.
54. Elizabeth Marbury was a literary and theatrical agent
The band made recordings in France and also upon their
representing such luminaries as Frances Hodgson Burnett,
return to the United States. The vocalist on many of the
Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Edith Wharton, W. Som-
recordings was Noble Sissle, who would later write the lyrics
erset Maugham, Eugene O’Neill, and later Jerome Kern She
for Shuffle Along. On May 9, 1919, Europe was fatally stabbed
helped to mold the Castle’s careers and turn them into house-
in the neck during a dispute with a fellow band member,
hold names. Marbury had an open lesbian relationship with
Herbert Wright. His jugular vein had been cut. He is buried
Elsie de Wolfe, who became a well-known interior decora-
in Arlington National Cemetery.
tor after a failed career as an actress. Ms. De Wolfe decorated
59. Erenberg, p. 168.
the Castle’s various dancing establishments.
60. When Irene Castle decided to have her appendix out,
55. The Castle School of Dancing at Castle House, was
she was concerned that after the operation, the nurses car-
located across from the entrance to the Ritz-Carlton on 46th
ing for her would comb her hair twice a day, something she
Street. It had a marble foyer with a fountain and a double
dreaded. So, before she checked into the hospital, she took a
staircase that led up to the two large, mirrored studios. One
pair of shears and chopped of her own hair, and then forbade
studio was used for “jazz enthusiasts” and utilized an African
the nurses to touch it. After she had recovered from surgery,
American jazz orchestra. The second room was for tango and
Irene was invited to dinner by Elsie Janis. Instead of hiding
maxixe and featured a string orchestra. Tea was served daily
her hair, she decided to wear it short, holding it in place by
by some of the top society women of the city who acted as
slipping a seed-pearl necklace, whose ends had been sewn
hostesses. Before being purchased by the Castles, the build-
together, around her head. Castle recalled;
ing had been used by couturiere Madame Osborn.
56. Although they moved in the highest social circles, there The first week there were two hundred and fifty Cas-
were times when Irene and Vernon Castle were treated as tle bobs; the next week twenty-five hundred. Stores
hirelings. If a client mistreated them or demanded too much, began to feature the “Castle Band to hold your hair
Vernon Castle would quote an hourly fee for teaching lessons in place.” Men’s barbershops began to hang signs
of one thousand dollars. They often received the exorbitant reading “Castle Clips here” and cartoonists pictured
fee. At the height of their success, the Castles earned over men dressing like women so they could stand a
$5,000.00 a week in a period when the average American chance of getting a haircut in a barbershop filled with
earned between $10.00 to $15.00 a week. women. It was a departure from long-established
57. One of the couple’s most successful appearances on custom and so radical that one Connecticut newspa-
Broadway was in The Sunshine Girl which opened at the per spread the news in bannered type across the front
Knickerbocker Theatre on February 3rd, 1913 and ran until page. “IRENE CASTLE CUTS HAIR” [Castle p. 117].
June 21st of the same year. (The show also reopened and ran
from September 1st until the 20th of 1913.) In the theatre Eve Golden states in her book Vernon and Irene Castle’s Rag-
news of The Evening Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, March 22, time Revolution, p. 26, that Irene first cut her hair in 1909
1913, p. 8. col. 2, the drama critic spoke of the couple’s prepa- while still in school so she could go swimming “during a
ration for their performances in the musical; vacant forty-minute period” and have her hair dry by the
time she returned to class. Golden suggests that in addition
One of the really startling features in the Julia to her hair’s shorter quick-drying convenience, Irene enjoyed
Sanderson musical comedy, “The Sunshine Girl,” is the sensation it caused among her classmates. When other
210 Notes — Chapter 8

students at the school followed her lead and began bobbing that relate this story, including the Stearns’ Jazz Dance, state
their hair as well, a scandal erupted and outraged parents that there were fifteen girls fired. Original newspaper
wrote to the principal to stop the practice. accounts of the event reveal that there were actually sixteen.
61. The Castle Walk was first done at a private birthday
party for Elsie Janis held at the Castle’s apartment above the
Café de l’Opera. Vernon and Irene tried a variation of the
one-step. As Irene recalled, “Instead of coming down on the
beat as everybody else did, we went up. The result was a step
Chapter 8
almost like a skip, peculiar-looking I’m sure, but exhilarat- 1. “Social Sanity Threatened, Says Our Foremost Psy-
ing and fun to do” (Castle, p, 79). After being introduced to chologist” Lima Daily News, Lima, OH, May 31, 1914, p. 17,
the public at large, the dance became enormously popular. quoting Professor Hugo Muensterberg of Harvard University.
The couple was appearing in the Broadway show The Sun- 2. “Ragtime”— Wikipedia.
shine Girl during this time, and Vernon Castle was in such Ragtime
demand for teaching the Castles Walk, he taught from morn- 3. Thomas L. Morgan’s and William Barlow’s From Cake-
ing until curtain time. Then the exhausted dancer did the walks to Concert Halls: An Illustrated History of African Amer-
show, and after the curtain fell performed with his wife doing ican Popular Music From 1895 to 1930. (Washington D. C.:
their exhibition dances at Louis Martin’s. Vernon Castle did Elliott & Clark, 1992) p. 21, states:
not claim credit for inventing the dance. He said he had taken
The roots of ragtime can be traced to the practice of
the idea from Leon Errol, an acrobatic comic he had seen do
“ragging” European dance music, a technique devel-
the step. Eve Golden (pp. 46–47) relates,
oped by slave musicians in the antebellum South.
By 1915, when self-proclaimed originators of the fox Playing banjos, fiddles, and an assortment of home-
trot and the Apache dance were quarreling with each made rhythm instruments, they would overlay the
other in the press, Vernon sent a letter to a show basic rhythmic and/or melodic structures of Euro-
business trade paper: “My dear Mr. Errol: I read pean songs with alternative rhythmic schemes. This
where it is said that you were the first to introduce was accomplished by two or more musicians playing
the step that is known as the Castle Walk. In case it is the competing rhythmic patterns simultaneously, or
any satisfaction to you, it is quite correct. I got the by one musician on a string instrument playing a
steps from you about four years ago, when you were separate pattern with each hand or with different
doing a very wonderful dance called the Grizzly Bear finger and thumb combinations to achieve the
at a burlesque theater in Pittsburgh. With best wishes desired cross rhythms. This polyrhythmic principle
and many congratulations to you on your art, I am a has always been prominently featured in the drum-
sincere admirer, Vernon Castle.” ming traditions of West Africa, and the practice
indeed may have come from there.
62. “Dancing Grips Gate City of South” The Atlanta Con-
stitution, Atlanta, GA, September 13, 1914, p. 43, col. 3. 4. “Ragtime”— Wikipedia.
63. “Dancing Masters are in a Quandary Over What Bird Ragtime
or Beast to Imitate in Search of a New Dancing Sensation” 5. A large number of ragtime dances were the result of
The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, Fort Wayne Indiana, Sep- music publishers taking advantage of the public’s voracious
tember 15, 1916, p. 9, col. 3. appetite for new material. Songs were written specifically with
64. Maurice Mouvet, Maurice’s Art of Dancing (New York: the creation of new dances in mind, often including instruc-
G. Schirmer, 1915) p. 72. tions in the lyrics for how to do them. In this way, a connec-
65. From 1880 until 1920 in the United States, young, sin- tion between songwriters and the dance hall was created, a
gle, working class women made up a major part of the work trend that lasted into the 1930’s. The popularity of dance
force. In 1900, fourth-fifths of the women working were sin- songs led many composers to search for new material in
gle, and one-third were between the ages of sixteen and African American honky-tonks and juke joints. Syncopation
twenty. Kathy Peiss examines this phenomenon in her excel- was in demand and many songwriters were eager to tap into
lent book Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure the source and make a buck.
in Turn-of-the-Century. (New York. Philadelphia: Temple 6. Ernest Hogan was born in Bowling Green, Kentucky
University Press, 1986, p. 35.); around 1859. His given name was Ernest Reuben Crowders,
but he changed his name to Hogan when he went into show
New jobs in department stores, large factories, and
business because Irish performers were in vogue at the time.
offices provided alternatives to domestic service,
As a minstrel, with his troupe, the Georgia Graduates, he
house-hold production, and sweated labor in small
introduced a comedy dance step called the Pasmala. Other
shops. The employment opportunities, the changing
dance steps were introduced in the song as well, such as the
organization of work, and the declining hours of
Saint-a Louis Pass and the Chicago Salute, which were both
labor altered the relationship between work and
references to the World’s Fairs held in those cities. One verse
leisure, shaping the way in which leisure time was
mentioned the Bumbishay (known by some as the Fanny
structured and experienced ... the workplace rein-
Bump.) The Bumbishay, or as we know it, the Bombershay,
forced the wage-earner’s interest in having a good
is still commonly used in tap routines today. The song also
time. Earning a living, an economic necessity for
mentioned the Turkey Trot at least fifteen years before it
most young working-class women, was also a cul-
attained national popularity. Hogan was considered one of
tural experience organizing and defining their leisure
the most talented performers in the business and one of the
best dancing comedians of his day. He toured with Black
66. Kathy Peiss, Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Patti’s Troubadours, billed as the “Unbleached American,”
Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century. (New York. Philadelphia: and also appeared in the road show The Smart Set. When he
Temple University Press, 1986) p. 6. was cast in the black musical Clorindy — The Origin of the
67. Although the culture of the dance hall fostered anony- Cakewalk he achieved stardom. In 1907, Hogan joined the
mous meetings and uninhibited behavior, young women cast of The Oyster Man, but became ill from overwork and
often protected their reputations by attending in pairs or in retired to a small home in Lakewood, New Jersey. He died
groups of friends. there in 1909. (This information was extracted directly from
68. Peiss, p. 45. my book Tap Roots.)
69. “‘Turkey Trot’ Shocks Editor” The San Antonio Light, 7. “Father of Rag-Time Music” Spirit Lake Beacon, Spirit
San Antonio, TX, July 7, 1912, p. 26. Most dance history books Lake, Iowa, February 2, 1906, p, 2, col. 4. According to the
Notes—Chapter 9 211

article, the “pas-ma-la” was a prompt used by a black dance 28. Rayon was invented in 1910, and was the first artificial
caller from New Orleans during an African America dance fabric to be used in clothing.
in Belvidere Hollow, a section of Kansas City. The expression 29. The Castles, p. 147. Many of Irene Castle’s gowns were
meant “pass and swing.” Ernest Hogan then originated a created by the couturier Lucile. Lucile, also known as Lady
dance by the same name. The dance became enormously pop- Duff-Gordon, was the younger sister of the actress Elinor
ular in the black culture in Kansas City. Glyn. Castle was a huge supporter of the designer, despite
8. Hogan’s song was originally entitled “All Pimps Look scandal associated with the Duff-Gordon name. Lucile and
Alike to Me.” After the song was published as “All Coons her husband were on the Titanic when it sank. The couple
Look Alike to Me,” some black singers of the era changed the and their maid ended up in lifeboat number one with only
lyric to “All Boys Look Alike to Me” to avoid using the racist nine other people. The boat was equipped to hold forty. At
word. The song was enormously popular and embraced by the inquest after the sinking, the Duff-Gordon’s were ques-
the public and the entertainment industry. It was sometimes tioned as to how this occurred and why the boat did not go
used at ragtime piano contests in the semi-final rounds to back to rescue others. Subsequent articles implied that
eliminate players. Each contestant had to “rag” on the tune Mrs. Duff-Gordon (Lucile) had been cruel, heartless, and
for at least two minutes. blasé about the situation. She vehemently denied it, but the
9. In Morgan’s and Barlow’s book, p. 16, the authors write: scandal sullied her reputation and many avoided her as a
The characterization of humorous minstrel novelty
30. Ibid, p. 139.
tunes as coon songs originated in the antebellum era
31. Ibid, p. 142.
in conjunction with the rising popularity of the ‘Zip
32. Ibid, p. 148.
Coon” stereotype, a black urban dandy vainly trying
33. Ibid, p. 143.
to imitate the mannerisms of his former masters. The
34. “Safety Dancing Pump Appears at Harvard for Use in
caricature and accompanying songs were first popu-
Bunny Hug” The Lowell Sun, Lowell, MA, February 20, 1913,
larized by George Washington Dixon in the 1830s.
p. 23, col. 2.
They were then taken over by black minstrels like
35. Ibid.
[Billy] Kersands, whose best known coon song,
36. The Castles, p. 145.
“Mary’s Gone with a Coon,” was actually a self-par-
37. Ibid, p. 147. Castle said, “A top-heavy or uncomfort-
ody of the African American stigma associated with
able head dress is as difficult to dance with as shoes that are
darker skin pigmentation.
painful ... if [a woman’s hair] is in danger of sliding down,
10. Marshall and Jean Stearns, Jazz Dance: The Story of or she is wearing a heavy hat that will not stay in place, she
American Vernacular Dance. New York : Da Capo, 1994 is sure to hold her head stiffly an ungracefully” (Golden, p.
Stearns, p. 120, quoting Edward B. Marks, They All Sang (New 65, quoting Irene Castle).
York: Viking Press, 1935) p. 91.
11. Everybody’s Doin’ It Now” words and music by Irv-
ing Berlin (New York: Ted Synder Co., 1911.) Eve Golden (p.
79) tells the story of a girl in Millwood, New York who was
arrested for singing “Everybody’s Doing It” and doing an
Chapter 9
improvised turkey trot as she walked past the house of the 1. “Suzette’s Views on Society and Dancing” Oakland Tri-
local justice of the peace. The official leveled charges against bune, Oakland, CA August 24, 1913, p. 7. col. 1. The same
the girl for disturbing the peace. She was found not guilty article stated, “...only Americans can truly dance the trot....
after she explained to the jury that “she sang the song because In Germany they call the trot ‘Truthahn Tanz,’ and in France
she like it, and danced because she could not help it when it is the ‘Pas du Dindon.’ Who would recognize the original
she heard the catchy tune.” The trial closed with the defense under such appellations?”
attorney singing Berlin’s famous song and the jury calling for 2. “Origin and Spread of the Vivacious ‘Turkey Trot’”
an encore. The Anaconda Standard, Anaconda, Montana, February 11,
12. “Foy in ‘Over the River’” The New York Times, Janu- 1912, p. 25.
ary 9, 1912, p.8. 3. “Prima Donnas Held Train” The New York Times,
13. Eve Golden, Vernon and Irene Castle’s Ragtime Revo- October 23, 1912, p. 1.
lution. (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2007) 4. “Turkey Trot an Appeal to Real Sense of Rhythm” Lin-
p. 52. coln Daily News, Lincoln, NE, September 27, 1913, p. 5, col.
14. Ibid. 1. The article continues; “The onestep makes a tremendous
15. “Hitting the Ragtime Dance” The La Crosse Tribune, appeal because it is superlatively rhythmic. It makes an added
La Crosse, Wisconsin, July 13, 1912, p. 3, col. 1. appeal because its rhythm is not only regular, but occasion-
16. “Anti rag-time girl.” words and music by Elsie Janis, ally irregular. Syncopation creeps in here and there with its
(New York: Jerome H. Remick & Co., @ 1913.) mysterious fascination.”
17. Ibid. 5. “The Dancing Mania”— an extract taken from The
18. Morgan and Barlow, p. 26. Medical Times. The Anaconda Standard, Anaconda, Montana,
19. “Attacks Slit Skirt” The New York Times, July 20, 1913, August 24, 1913, p. 21, col. 3.
p. 2. 6. Lewis Erenberg, Steppin’Out: New York Nightlife and
20. Mordecai Franklin Ham, Light on the Dance. (No pub- the Transformation of American Culture, 1890–1930. (Chicago:
lisher, 1916) p. 53. University of Chicago Press, 1981) p. 81, originally extracted
21. “Slit Skirt Girl Driven Out” The New York Times, July from “The Revolt of Decency,” New York Sun quoted in Lit-
17, 1913, p. 1. erary Digest, April 9, 1913, p. 894. In addition to objections
22. “Slit Skirt ‘Disorderly’” The New York Times, June 29, concerning the close embrace and the jiggling of the body,
1913, p. 1. some voiced concern that since it had “no regulated figures
23. Ibid. to hold the dancers within the bounds of decorum ... rag
24. “Mob a Woman Bather” The New York Times, Septem- dance frequently degenerates into license and abandon”
ber 12, 1913, p. 1. (quote from an article entitled “Ragtime and Morals,” The
25. Ibid. Oakland Tribune, Oakland, Ca, August 15, 1913, p. 10, col. 1).
26. “Judge Defends Slit Skirt” The New York Times, Sep- 7. Ibid.
tember 5, 1914, p. 1. 8. “Bishops Differ on New Dancing Steps” The New York
27. Mr. & Mrs. Vernon Castle, Modern Dancing (New Times, January 19, 1914, p. 6.
York: Harper, 1914) p. 140. 9. Ibid.
212 Notes — Chapter 9

10. “Canon Assails Our New Dances” The New York Times, Cable and Sporting Sections, p. C3.) it speaks of a piece in
August 25, 1913, p. 3. The clergyman asked his congregation, The London Graphic cautioning its readers about the lewd
Would indecent dances, suggestive of evil and dances that were overtaking the nation.
destructive of modesty, disgrace our civilization for a Dancing is in disgrace, the worst disgrace it has
moment if professed Christians were to say, “I will known since the priests of ancient Egypt evolved the
not allow my daughter to turn into Salome, even first “rounds,” or dances, under the burning sky of
although Herod were to give me half his kingdom the East. It seemed that the fantasy and freakism
and admit me to the much-coveted society of a world could go no further than it did last season, but it
which has persuaded itself that immodesty is artistic, could. We basely misjudged the powers of the mod-
and that anything is permissible in society which ern dancers by supposing that the freaks of last year
relieves the intolerable monotony of its pleasures.”? had resurrected the entire contents of the basket. Not
11. “Turkey Trot is Gait to Hell, Says Parson” Atlanta Con- at all. There were others, many others, and they are
stitution, Atlanta, GA, July 16, 1913, p.2. such that the mongrels of yesterday are as nothing
12. “Bishops Differ on New Dancing Steps” The New York compared to the hobgoblins of to-day. The latest
Times, January 19, 1914, p. 6. dances are disgraceful.
13. “Bishops Differ on New Dancing Steps” The New York 21. “Fighting the ‘Turkey Trot’” The New York Times,
Times, January 19, 1914, p. 6. March 17, 1912, Section: Parts III and IV Transatlantic Wire-
14. “Billy Sunday Raps Nuptial Slackers” The New York less Cable and Sporting, p. C3.
Times, April 13, 1917, p. 7. 22. “Ban the Turkey Trot” The New York Times, April 8,
15. From “Theater, Cards and Dance” a sermon by Billy 1912, p. 3.
Sunday. In this sermon Sunday lambasted the close hold used 23. In Bellingham Washington, a young dance instructor
in the modern dances. He said, by the name of H. O. Morrison was arrested for disobeying
When I danced on the puncheon floor in the log the city’s dancing ordinances. At his trial, the judge asked the
cabin on the frontier in Iowa, we used to be able to young man to be an expert witness in identifying others who
get a stick of wood between them, but now you can’t had been arrested as perpetrators of the bunny hug and griz-
get a piece of tissue paper between.... Most men don’t zly bear. Morrison agreed. At their trial, Morrison asked the
care a rap for the dance; it is the hug that they are judge if there could be a demonstration of some of the ques-
after.... You make men dance by themselves, and it tionable moves of the bunny hug to show how despicable
will kill the dance in two weeks. You know that you they actually were. When the judge agreed, Morrison asked
don’t care for the dance; it is the hug and the oppo- two policemen to do the dance. Just as the two burly officers
site sex. clasped arms around each other and were cheek-to-cheek, a
16. Ann Wagner, Adversaries of Dance: From the Puritans reporter in the courtroom snapped a photograph. The next
to the Present (Chicago: University of Illinois, 1997) p. 259, morning the photo ran on the front page of the local paper.
quoting Billy Sunday’s “A Plain Talk to Women.” The picture was also sent to other papers along with a copy
17. “Abused Turkey Trot Spreads in London.” The New of the judge’s dance restrictions. A huge scandal erupted. As
York Times, February 18, 1912, Section: Transatlantic Wire- a result, the embarrassed judge dropped charges against the
less, Cable and Sporting Sections, p. C2. When choreogra- original dancers who had been arrested. It was found out
pher and musician Uriel Davis visited to London, he was in later, that Morrison had actually engineered the whole
great demand at all the top society events where he taught brouhaha to thumb his nose at the dance restrictions.
rag dances. When asked how London society was taking to 24. “Society in War On Freak Dances” The Fort Wayne Sen-
the new steps, Davis responded, tinel, Fort Wayne, Indiana, September 20, 1912, p.15, col. 1.
25. “Chief Ryan Places Ban On the ‘Hugging’ Dance” Dal-
When I first arrived here I found society dancers las Daily Times Herald, July 19, 1912, p. 1, col. 1–2. Society
knew nothing at all about trots and tangos. They was deeply concerned about the threat that immoral dancing
were doing the waltz almost exclusively, and now and posed to young women. In certain cases drastic actions were
again jumping around somehow. The main trouble taken to protect them. A young woman in Chehalis, Wash-
was an impression existing everywhere trotting ington was actually sent to reform school for dancing the
dancers were vulgar. English people are good dancers, bunny hug, turkey trot, and angleworm wiggle.
but the change was so radical it was hard for them at 26. “Mayor Gaynor Asks Ban Put on Bad Dance” Fairbanks
first to accustom themselves to it. Now they don’t Daily Times, Fairbanks Alaska, April 5, 1913, p. 1, col. 2.
care much for the waltz and everyone is dancing 27. Ibid.
trots, with the horse trot as a prime favorite. 28. “Southern Hotel Closed by Police” The New York
(Quote from: The Milford Mail, Milford, Iowa, July 24, 1913, Times, April 30, 1913, p. 1. At the hotel, the police interrupted
p. 6, col. 1.) “several hundred devotees of the cabaret and the tango and
18. Ibid. The same society matron also said, “Nobody who turkey trot who were dining and dancing in the main dining
waltzes well could possibly want anything more delightful room.” In addition to concerns about the dancing being done
than a waltz with a good partner to the music of a good band. there, the police had been informed of “the presence of unde-
We are asked to exchange this for jerks, slides, and grabs, all sirable women in the lobby and dining room.”
ungraceful and utterly, undignified.” One particularly vocal 29. According to the article entitled “Broadway Sees Raid
opponent of ragtime dancing was Alice, Countess of Straf- on Dance; 100 Seized” in The New York Times, February 15,
ford, who declared, “The so-called dances can only be com- 1921, p. 8, the owners of Wilson’s Dance Studio were charged
pared to the wild, abandoned frenzies of some ancient with maintaining a public nuisance and the dancers were
Bacchantic revel, although the modern versions are devoid charged with disorderly conduct. The thirty-nine young
of grace” (quote from: “London Dispute Over ‘Turkey Trot’” ladies who were arrested appeared before the judge and
The New York Times, May 21, 1913, p. 3). denied being “in the company of women of known bad char-
19. “People in the Passing Show” The Washington Post, acter.” The magistrate discharged them “and once more they
May 24, 1913, p. 7, col. 3. were happy — and noisy.”
20. “Temple Pictures London’s Horror at ‘Those Nasty 30. “Turkey Trot Barred at Annapolis Dances” The New
American Hug-Dances’” by Herbert Temple. The Syracuse York Times, January 14, 1913, p. 17.
Herald, Syracuse, NY, December 8, 1912, p. 45, col. 6. In an 31. Ibid.
article entitled “’Turkey Trot’ Denounced” (The New York 32. “Wilson Banned Ball Fearing Turkey Trot” The New
Times, February 25, 1912, Section: Transatlantic Wireless York Times, January 21, 1913, p. 3.
Notes—Chapter 9 213

33. Excerpt from Jane Addams, The Spirit of Youth and the dardized and sent from a recognized centre, so that
City Streets (New York : The Macmillan Company, 1909), they shall be everywhere uniform. I am not a teacher
Chapter 1. Extracted from Nancy G. Rosoff ’s “Recreation and of dancing, but I can give the teachers of the country
Social Chaperonage in the Progressive Era” (Lesson Plan). At the proper information so they can teach their pupils.
the Organization of American Historians websitehttp://www. Naturally a dancing teacher does not want to confess that he is ignorant of any dance, no matter what it is,
34. Dr. R. A. Adams, The Social Dance (Kansas City: 1921) and if pupils ask for something that they have read of
p. 19. he does his best to teach it to them. The dancing
35. Excerpts from Belle Lindner Israels, “The Way of the masters want to teach the correct thing, but they do
Girl,” Survey 22 (3 July 1909): 494, 495, and 497. Extracted not always know where to get it. I am going to estab-
Rosoff. lish headquarters in some big city and from there will
36. Mordecai Franklin Ham, Light on the Dance (1916) p. 28. be sent exact directions for dancing the newest and
37. “Welfare Inspector at Society Dance,” The New York most fashionable dances so that in the smallest town
Times, January 4, 1912, p. 1. in the farthest West they may dance exactly as per-
38. Ibid. sons do in fashionable centres.
39. Ibid.
40. The New York Times, (October 11, 1912, p. 9), ran an 49. Mr. & Mrs. Vernon Castle, Modern Dancing (New
article that explained one of the ways the Committee tried to York: Harper, 1914) p. 17.
educate society members. “One of the foremost country clubs 50. Castles, p. 177. They also suggested; “Avoid low, fan-
within the short radius of New York” sent for the Commit- tastic, and acrobatic dips,” and “Stand far enough away from
tee on Amusement Resources for Working Girls’ dancing each other to allow free movement of the body in order to
instructor to teach them the new tamer dances and asked that dance gracefully and comfortably.” The manual also
she “wean the young people of the club away from the unhal- explained proper arms positions, and informed the reader to
lowed ‘trot.’” “Remember you are at a social gathering and not in a gym-
41. When Jolsen was asked about the origins of the dances, nasium.” They closed the list of rules with “Drop the Turkey
he explained that “he picked up the art as he saw it on the Trot, the Grizzly Bear, the Bunny Hug, etc. These dance are
Barbary Coast, where he used to sell papers as a San Fran- ugly, ungraceful, and out of fashion.”
cisco boy. It’s all the same ... call it ‘Turkey Trot,’ or “Bunny 51. “Turkey Trot Must Glide” The New York Times, Jan-
Hug,’ as you will. Stripped of the variations, despoiled of the uary 31, 1913, p. 6.
precautions, all the new variants drop insensibly into one 52. “A Paris Decalogue to Guide Dancers” The New York
thing. There in those fifteen or twenty dance halls, thriving Times, February 11, 1912, Section: Transatlantic Wireless,
as they did in his day on the patronage of the half-drunken Cable and Sporting Sections, p. C4.
sailors welcomed at port, the dance was born. The unsteady 53. Ibid.
tar could only half skate about the floor to begin with. And 54. Eve Golden, Vernon and Irene Castle’s Ragtime Revo-
then the orchestra would hit it up, and they would rag it a lution (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2007)
bit, and then strike out on the minors that are more seduc- p. 100.
tive, I guess— and get closer and closer, and snap their fingers, 55. “Dance Masters Denounce Jazz” Reno Evening Gazette,
and — and I guess I’ve said enough” Quote from: The New Reno, NV, January 23, 1920, p. 16, col. 3.
York Times, January 27, 1912, p. 1. 56. This contraption is described in Castles in the Air, p.
42. “Polite Dances Are Shown to Society” The New York 86. According to Irene Castle “It was against the law to dance
Times, March 26, 1912, p. 13. too close to your partner at the time and bouncers in restau-
43. Ibid. rants tapped their patrons on the shoulder when they get [sic]
44. Ibid. closer than nine inches.”
45. “Welfare Inspector at Society Dance” The New York 57. “To Beat the Turkey Trot” The New York Times, Octo-
Times, January 4, 1912, p. 1. ber 11, 1912, p. 9.
46. Despite efforts to regulate and refine dances, the results 58. During World War I, Davis led what was considered
did not always go as expected. Two performers presented the one of the best army bands, a corps of musicians from Camp
turkey trot at the Hippodrome in London and advertised that Raritan, NJ. In addition to being a bandleader, songwriter,
any objectionable features of the dance had been removed. choreographer, and businessman, Davis served as musical
The response was not warm. “To remove objectionable fea- director at the roof garden of the Bellevue-Stratford hotel. In
tures of one kind is not always to render a thing free from the summer of 1915, he created a “mild sensation” when he
objection, and we have one very serious objection to urge presented a little canary named Andy who warbled to Davis’
against the ‘turkey trot.’ It is abominably ugly” (quote from: accompaniment on the piano. When the President Wilson
The New York Times. February 6, 1912, p. 3). announced his engagement to Miss Norma Galt, Davis began
47. “Turkey Trot an Appeal to Real Sense of Rhythm” diligently training his “protégé” to warble passages from
Lincoln Daily News, Lincoln, NE, September 27, 1913, p. 5, Mendelssohn’s Wedding March and the Wedding March from
col. 1. Along with the Castles, Maurice Mouvet was a strong Lohengrin. Davis would repeatedly pound out the passages
proponent of refining the popular dances. In his book Mau- on the piano and teach the bird. “The little bird took aptly
rice’s Art of Dancing, pp. 36–37, he writes, “...I also began to to both tunes and has fairly well mastered them. Inside of sev-
dance the Turkey Trot, but I never danced it with grotesque eral weeks in plenty of time for the wedding, the bird will be
movements of the shoulders which made it so unpopular able to sing both numbers without hesitancy, [sic] Davis says”
among people of refinement and good taste. My objection to (quote from: Trenton Evening Times, Trenton, NJ, October
it in the form in which it was danced in 1911 and the early part 18, 1915, p. 11, col. 3).
of 1912 was based purely on the ground of its ugly inartistic 59. The horse trot was a prancing-type dance which
aspect.” included kicks similar to the cakewalk. It replaced the turkey
48. In an article entitled “To ‘Bunny Hug’ and ‘Horse trot in popularity when it was first introduced, but its more
Trot’ in Unison in an Effort to Standardize Dancing” found strenuous nature and the difficulty women had in executing
in The Evening Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, December 2, the kicks in long dresses, caused the dance to fall out of favor
1913, p. 14, Uriel Davis states, around 1914. Most sources state that the horse trot was first
introduced at an event hosted by politician Hamilton Fish Jr.,
It seems like a tremendous undertaking, yet it is when he gave a Lenten Ball at the Copley Plaza in Boston for
really very simple. The whole scheme depends upon the top members of society from New York, Philadelphia,
having the instructions for dancing correctly stan- Chicago, Washington, and Boston on February 21, 1913. Orig-
214 Notes — Chapter 9

inally 300 guests were invited, but the news of the event 63. Vera Violetta opened at the Winter Garden in 1911 and
attracted a huge crowd and the ballroom was opened and also featured in its cast, Al Jolsen, who according to reviews
1,000 couples attended and saw the new dance. The McKean stole the show. The song “Tar-Rar-Rar-Boomdiay” was
Democrat (Smethport, PA, August 7, 1913, p. 3, col. 1.) offered introduced in the show by actress Josie Collins.
a different story. It reported that Davis’s horse trot actually 64. Gaby Deslys claimed she was born in Marseilles,
originated in Washington D. C. sometime in 1912. The news- France on November 4, 1881. She gave her birth name was
paper stated, Marie-Elise Gabrielle Claire. A dispute about her heritage
arose however when it was discovered that she might really
The horse trot was introduced last season at a ball
have been of Czech peasant origins, her birth name being
given by the military attaché of the German embassy,
Hadwiga Nawrati, sometimes spelled Hedviga Navratilova.
Maj. Von Herwarth, and Mme. Von Herwarth. Both
There is still confusion about the real truth. She took the
the music and the dance were originated by Mr. Uriel
name Gaby Deslsy, an abbreviation of “Gabrielle of the Lil-
Davis, who, with his brother, is a favorite exponent
lies” as a stage name, and made her debut in Paris in 1905.
of popular dance music in Washington. Mr. John
She went on to become one of the most sought after per-
Astor, then in the city, say [sic] the dance and took a
formers of her day. She is credited with presenting the first
fancy to it. At the behest of Mrs. Astor, Mrs. Ronalds,
striptease on Broadway. Well-known for her sense of fash-
Mrs. Herbert Asquith and other well known ladies in
ion, Deslys never appeared in the same costume twice in the
London, Mr. Davis has gone to that city to teach the
same theatre, and often changed gowns as many as ten times
per show. She was romantically linked with Manuel II, King
The paper added that after being introduced, the dance made of Portugal, who showered her with jewels. Deslys claimed
its way from Washington to Newport and then Bar Harbor. at her death that she owned her own weight in pearls. In
(It is likely that the paper is actually referring to the intro- World War I, she worked for the French government as a spy.
duction of the fish walk.) She died on February 11, 1920 in Paris of pneumonia and a
In a story in The Evening Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, severe throat infection brought on by influenza.
December 2, 1913, p. 14, Davis admitted, “I did not name the 65. Harry Fox was born on May 25, 1882 in Pomona, Cal-
‘horse trot.’ I was trying a variation of the aeroplane dip, ifornia. His birth name was Arthur Carringford. In 1897, he
worked out the steps and set them to music. I showed the ran away from home to join the circus and, later, play pro-
steps to a German diplomatist and played the music. ‘Why, fessional baseball. He started in show business after a sheet
it is just like a horse trotting,’ he said. ‘Why not call it that?’ music publisher heard him sing and hired him to be a song
Soon afterward I introduced the ‘fish walk’ in London for the plugger, singing songs from the balconies of vaudeville the-
Duke and Duchess of Manchester.” atres. In 1904 he gained notice when he appeared in San Fran-
60. The fish walk was introduced by Mme. Von Herwarth, cisco in a show called Mr. Frisky of Frisco, a production that
wife of the military attaché of the German embassy in Wash- later toured. After the earthquake of 1909, Fox moved to New
ington, and danced to Uriel Davis’ composition “The Walk York. He worked in vaudeville as a dancer and comedian and
of the Fishes.” Instructions for the dance were as follows, “To in 1907 teamed up with Beatrice Curtis. The two performed
do the fish walk, the new society dance originated here, one together and married. They divorced in 1912, when Fox
must strive to look and move like a mermaid in a hobble joined the cast of The Passing Show of 1912. In 1914 he paired
skirt. The idea is to perambulate in rhythmic hops just as you up with Yansci (Jenny) Dolly of the Dolly Sisters. The two
think a fish would” (quote from: New Castle News, New Cas- did an act together and married. With the popularity of exhi-
tle, PA, May 1, 1913, p. 12, col. 3). bition dance teams, Fox and his new wife used ballroom
61. The Portsmouth Herald, Portsmouth, NJ, May 20, 1913, dancing as the centerpiece of their new act. Fox was hired to
p. 7, col. 3, reported; “Mr. Davis claims he gets most of his dance at the New York Theatre, which had recently been con-
ideas from the little dancers who follow the organ-grinders verted to a movie palace. Fox and his chorus of “American
around and dance upon the sidewalks from morning until Beauties” performed between features there. The roof of the
night enriching the owners of the organ by the contributions New York Theatre was converted into a cabaret, called the
they draw from spectators.” The article describes one situa- Jardin de Danse and the featured act in the revue there were
tion in which an organ grinder in Hell’s Kitchen was playing the Dolly Sisters. It was in this show that Fox presented the
the “Horse Trot” music that Davis had written as Davis was foxtrot. Some sources state that Fox introduced his famous
passing by. He noticed some street urchins dancing the turkey foxtrot in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1913, or 1914, but he is not
trot, and stopped to teach them the actual horse trot. “Inside listed in the opening night credits. Fox also appeared in silent
of thirty minutes [he] had twenty or more children enjoying films and a few talkies. He died in Woodland Hills, Califor-
the novel and invigorating steps of his dance ... the mothers nia on July 20, 1959.
of the children came out of the tenements and asked to be 66. Although most historians believe that the fox trot was
taught the dance and Davis had the busiest time of this life.” named after Harry Fox, in his book Maurice’s Art of Danc-
According to the article, Davis was leaning against a lamp- ing, p. 82, Maurice Mouvet intimates that perhaps the dance
post exhausted when a limousine pulled up with four soci- earned its named from another source. He writes,
ety ladies who were coming to do charity work. They recognized
Possibly the people who invented the title belonged
Davis because he had directed an entertainment at Sherry’s
to that rather slender class of persons who have
the night before and the ladies had all attended. They called
leisure to hunt, and it may be that in their swift
him to the car and Davis explained what had happened.
glimpses of the fleeing fox ... but who can say accu-
Thrilled at the impromptu event, the ladies got out of their
rately? And does it really matter much, anyhow?
car and joined in the dancing and “by showering money
among the throng kept the street in an uproar until three 67. Joan Sawyer, “How to Dance the Foxtrot,” Columbia
policemen came running down the street with clubs drawn Gramophone Company, November 23, 1914.
and with visions of a riot to scatter the crowd. When they 68. Marshall and Jean Stearns, Jazz Dance: The Story of
saw the ladies and Mr. Davis they apologized, but advised American Vernacular Dance (New York: Da Capo, 1994, p.
them to leave, for Hell’s kitchen was no place for folks with 98) quoting W. C. Handy.
jewels and money.” Following the advice of the officers, Davis 69. Stearns, p. 98, quoting Irene Castle.
left with the ladies as the crowd ran behind the car shouting, 70. Ham, p. 52, quoting The Houston Chronicle.
“come back again some other day and do the ‘Horse Trot.’” 71. “Turkey Trot Caused It” The Fort Wayne Sentinel, Fort
62. “All London Crazy Over Turkey Trot; Hostesses Wayne, IN, June 7, 1913, p. 3, col. 4.
Despair” The Milford Mail, Milford, Iowa, July 24, 1913, p. 6, 72. Castle, p. 85.
col. 1. 73. “Gibson Puts Ban on Wicked Dances” The Syracuse
Notes—Chapter 10 215

Herald, Syracuse, New York, September 19, 1912, p. 18, col. Jakuta, became a symbol of African resistance to European
3. enslavement. The god was worshipped in Haitian voodoo and
74. “Dancing Masters are in a Quandary Over What Bird in Brazilian condomblé. He is often represented in African
or Beast to Imitate in Search of a New Dancing Sensation” art with one hand raised pointing to the sky while his other
The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, Fort Wayne Indiana, Sep- points to his reproductive organs. In my book Tap Roots; The
tember 15, 1916, p. 9, col. 3. Early History of Tap Dancing, I write about the similarities
75. “Society Bars Turkey Trot” Trenton Evening Times, between the representations of this gesture by Shango, and
Trenton, NJ, November 8, 1912, p. 9, col. 4. representations of minstrel dancer Thomas Darmouth Rice
76. “Girl’s Leg Broken Doing Turkey Trot” Waterloo Eve- performing the dance move that became known as truckin.’
ning Courier, Waterloo, Iowa, September 24, 1912, p. 4, col. 4. Crozier, p. 14.
5. The Washington Post, Washington DC, Feb. 14, 1912, p. 1, 5. The music and dance of Andalusia was influenced by
col. 4, reported on another incident of someone breaking a Arabic Muslim elements. These influences can be traced to
leg trying out one of the new ragtime dances. “Mrs. George the Moorish invasion of the Iberian Peninsula by North
Nelson of Snohomish, Snohomish County, broke her right leg African Berbers in 711. The blending of Moorish court music
in two places last night while trying to keep step to an orig- with Gypsy folk songs was important in the development of
inal local dance called the “Snohomish.” Flamenco. The finger snapping and heel-stamping of Fla-
77. “Dies After a Turkey Trot” menco was brought to Argentina and became part of many
The New York Times, June 11, 1912, p. 1. folk dances of the pampas. They also filtered into parts of the
78. Ibid. Mrs. Day was twenty-one. She was practicing the tango, such as the heel-stamping breaks called taconeos.
dance with her husband one Friday night before going to see 6. In Spanish the word became tangir—“to pluck,” as in
some professionals do it at the pier. She had a sudden pain “to pluck the strings of an instrument.” The website To
in her side so stopped dancing. Ten minutes later, when she Tango— Tango Terms and Etymology, states that this ety-
was leaving the house, she collapsed. Doctors were sum- mology is doubtful. It explains that the 1899 edition of the
moned, but she died before they arrived. dictionary of the Spanish Royal Academy of Letters, states
79. Wagner, p. 263, quoting William Milburn Dye, Pop- the word could possibly be derived from the Latin tangir,
ular Amusements and Their Substitutes, Louisville: Pente- meaning “to play instruments,”—tango in the first person
costal Publishing, 1912, p. 9. would therefore mean “I play.” Although the 1914 edition of
80. “Riot at Preacher’s Dance” The New York Times, Sep- the dictionary included tangir or tangere (“to play or to
tember 18, 1913, p. 4. touch”) as possible sources of the word, later editions omit-
81. “No ‘Turkey Trot’ For Her” The Washington Post, ted the reference.
Washington D. C., January 15, 1912, p. 3, col. 4. 7. The island of São Tomé is located off the western equa-
82. According to an account of the incident in the McK- torial coast of Africa. It was discovered by Portuguese explor-
ean County Miner, (Smethport, PA, January 23, 1902, p. 5, ers sometime in the mid 1400s. In 1493, the first permanent
col. 2); settlement was established on the island. Because of the chal-
lenges of attracting new inhabitants to the remote spot, Por-
Lillian Williams, a colored lady filled with sporting
tugal resorted to sending its “undesirables” there, mostly
blood and booze, attended a pay-day dance in West
persecuted Jews. Robert Farris Thompson suggests in his
Virginia last Saturday night. The orchestra was play-
book Tango: The Art History of Love, pp. 136–137, that Jew-
ing waltzy music when she wanted ragtime. She used
ish elements can be found in the milonga, and also in the
a revolver in her argument for ragtime and as a result
tango—for example, the rapid crossing front and back of
two colored musicians have departed this life, while a
the feet in the step la vibrota (the little snake) which is sim-
white spectator lies mortally wounded and Lil lies in
ilar to the grapevine used in dancing the hora. Tracing these
jail. The police beat the mob on the scene or she
elements to the Jews of São Tomé is based only on conjec-
would be hanging to a tree.
83. Ham, p. 27. 8. The website ToTango— Tango Terms and Etymology
states that music historian Carlos Vega mentions a solo dance
called the tango that existed in the 18th century Mexico.
9. Crozier, p. 14. Crozier adds that in Jamaica the tango
Chapter 10 was first primarily danced only by children, but was later
embraced by the adults of Kingston society.
1. Gladys Beattie Crozier, The Tango and How to Dance 10. Marilyn Grace Miller states in her book Rise and Fall of
It (London: Andrew Melrose, 1913) pp. 7–8. the Cosmic Race: The Cult of Mestizaje in Latin America, p. 84;
2. In a similar context, the word “tango” was also used
In 1836, an entry appears in a dictionary from
by slave traders to indicate where slaves were held and also
Matanzas Cuba, that not only associates the tango
sold. Scholars suggest the word could be linked to the word
with a geographical site nearly antipodal to its cur-
tambo, an African word used to describe the pens and mar-
rent “birthplace” of Argentina, but also documents
kets where slaves were kept and sold. In his book Tango: The
the presence of tango in institutionalized discourse
Art History of Love, p. 81, Robert Farris Thompson has an
almost a century before its so-called Golden Age in
extensive list of African Classical Ki-Kongo words that are
the 1920s. This Cuban dictionary defines tango as a
related to the “tango” of Creole Buenos Aires idiom. For
meeting of black bozales— recently arrived enslaved
example, tanga (plural matanga), fete, festival, or a ceremony
Africans—for the purpose of dancing to the sound of
marking the end of a period of mourning; tanga dungulu, to
their drums and other instruments.
walk, showing off, to swagger; tangala, to walk heavily and
hesitatingly, to stagger, to toddle, to trot, to walk small steps, This dictionary was published by Esteban Pichrdo.
to walk like a chameleon, to march with the feet inward, to 11. According to the website ToTango— Tango Terms and
swagger, or a large drum, or a small drum; tangala-tangala, Etymology, the dictionary of the Spanish Royal Academy of
to walk like a crab; tangalakana, to walk zigzag, tangama, to Letters, 1899 edition, gave two primary definitions of the
take long steps, to leap or bound, to walk seriously or word: first, “fiesta and dance of Negroes or gente del pueblo
solemnly, to walk like a crab, to be thrown on one’s back and in America,” and second, “Music for that dance.” Colier,
be tightly held (as in wrestling), tangana, to walk like a Cooper, Azzi, and Martin state in Tango: The Dance, the Song
chameleon, taganana, to walk. and the Story, that the two primary uses of the word were
3. The African deity of thunder and lightning known as either as a place for blacks to dance or the dances themselves
Shango, Sango, Xango, Chango, and in Latin American, It was this second meaning, referring to tango specifically as
216 Notes — Chapter 10

a black dance, that was taken to Spain and used to label and Richard Martin. Tango!: The Dance, the Song, the Story
dances which were African influenced. (London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.. 1995) p. 43.
12. In an article entitled “Dance Teachers Have Managed 22. The word “candombe” eventually came to signify all
to Standardize the Tango” written by Helen Hoyt for black dances of the Bantu people enslaved and brought to
the Gazette and Bulletin, Williamsport, PA, January 18, that country. Used generically, it also defined all aspects asso-
1915, p. 10, col. 2., the author informed her readers, “...the ciated with the ancestral rituals of these suppressed people.
tango comes you know originally from wild and wooly The candombe was rooted in Bantu African drumming, but
Africa.” mixed with European influences. Blacks during this time,
13. On page 490 of his book, Raffé lists the twelve figures referred to their drums as tangós. By association, the term
of the earlier forms of the dance as follows; came to represent both the gathering places where the drums
were played, and the dances that accompanied the drum-
1. El Paseo— The promenade, arrival and round
ming. In the early 1800’s, the word “candombe” was inter-
square space.
changeably used with the words “tambo” and “tango.” The
2. El Marcha— Setting to partners and slow march
political establishment in Montevideo saw the African-based
of the whole company.
dances as a threat to public decency and tried to banish them,
3. El Corte— The company defines the circle of the
and by 1808, the governor was asked to ban such dances and
Corte by moving around its circumference.
“prohibit the tangós of the blacks” (quote taken from the book
4. El Medio Corte— The leading couple demonstrate
El Candombe by Ruben Carambula — extracted from the web-
[sic] in the centre.
site “candombe” at
5. El Chase— is used to follow the first couple in
As European immigration grew after the midway mark of
figures, as they call.
the nineteenth century, younger Afro-Argentines began
6. El Media Luna— is half way; as a half moon, the
abandoning the candombe in favor of imported European
half circle now filled, defined.
dance forms, such as the waltz, the polka, the mazurka, the
7. El Moulinet— the mill, Moulin, by movement in
schottische, and the habanera that had been brought from
two opposing circles.
Cuba. White Argentinians reciprocated by adopting black
8. El Frottado— Friction from the Moulinet,
forms of dance, such as the candombe.
resolved by....
23. The word habanera can be translated as “from the city
9. El Ocho— to centre, to “Eye” in smallest circle
of Havana.” The dance, which originated in Havana, Cuba,
(=Oc; oke, oak-tree, etc.)
was taken to Spain around 1850, and reached Argentina by
10. El Abanico— L’Eventail, the pigeon or “fanning
way of sheet music as early as 1803.
out,” to....
24. Robert Farris Thompson states that the bass rhythm
11. El Ruade— the Wheel, or Great Circle (the path,
of the habanera was taken from a Kongo bass ngoma drum
the Way) leading to....
pattern known as mbila a makinu, which translates as “the
12. El Cruzado— the Cross, or final balance
call to the dance.” He adds, “The use of the bass drum, as
14. Mr. & Mrs. Vernon Castle, Modern Dancing (New opposed to the treble, is deliberate: treble voicings represent
York: Harper, 1914) p. 83. our world, but bass patterns come from the spirit. ‘They are
15. Crozier, p. 9. sounds from beneath the horizon. They capture the deep part
16. Jean Richepin, a prolific novelist, poet, and dramatist, of what people are thinking.’ Bass brings transcendence” (p.
was born on February 4, 1849 in Médéa, Algeria. He was the 115).
son of an army doctor, and initially planned to be a physi- 25. Collier, p.40.
cian himself, but gave it up to study literature. He spent some 26) In the ancient Angolan language the word “milonga”
years as an adventurer then turned to writing. His first book, meant both “argument” and “issue.” It also denoted using
a long poem entitled Chanson des guex, The Song of the Hoboes words to incite, rebel and stand up to authority. This tradi-
(1876) created such a scandal, it was censored. Richepin was tion was later utilized in drum duels and challenge singing.
arrested, fined 500 francs, and given a one-month prison sen- However, the milonga in the most traditional sense was also
tence “for outrage to public decency and good morals” (Ship- about reconciliation. According to Thompson, p. 135,
ley, Joseph Twadell. Modern French Poetry: An Anthology. “Milonga in this sense sees cultural difference not as a
Manchester, NH: Ayer Publishing, 1972, p. 36). At one time, predicament but as amiable argument, an argument solved
he was the lover of Sarah Berhardt. In 1908, he became a by generosity, shared values, and celebratory spirit.”
member of French Académie des Beaux Arts, an organization 27. Collier, p.41.
that was highly respected for its intellectualism. He died in 28. Collier, p. 37.
Paris on December 12, 1926. 29. Compadritos were sometimes called guapos, translated
17. Crozier, p. 9. Richepin made these statements origi- as “lady’s men.”
nally in a lecture he gave before the “Immortal Forty” enti- 30. Collier, p. 38.
tled “a propos du Tango” on October 25, 1913 at a public 31. In the outer districts of Buenos Aires, many illegal
gathering of the five Academies of the Institut de France in brothels called clandestinos, flourished. Prostitution was ram-
Paris. His lecture was attended by a large number of society pant in the city and many of these women had been brought
women, but only four of his fellow Academy members. In from Europe through the white slave trade. The “street tough”
addition to discussing the dance’s origins, Richepin defended and the “tawdry woman” were common archetypes in tango
the tango as a suitable and respectable dance. lore.
18. “Tango Captivates German Capital” The New York 32. Collier, p. 45, quoting Ventura Lynch. José Gobello, a
Times, November 9, 1913, Section: Editorial Foreign News noted writer on the history of the tango suggests that as the
Sports Want Advertisements, P. C3. tango was given birth, African elements were added not only
19. “Academicians Hear the Tango Praised” The New York to the milonga, but also probably to the mazurka as well in
Times, October 26, 1913, Section: Foreign News Sports Want the districts closer to the docks. In his book Tango: The Art
Advertisements, p. C4. Richepin’s declaration was contested History of Love, p. 130, Robert Farris Thompson writes,
by the Keeper of the Greek and Roman Antiquities at the
British Museum who stated that there was no picture, rep- He [Ventura Lynch] says, without evidence, that
resentation, or record in the museum to support such a claim. compadritos were the only persons who were dancing
20. “Dance Craze is First Appearance of Social Hysteria in the milonga. But he certainly was not saying that all
Centuries” The Milford Mail, Milford, Iowa, November 19, dancers of milonga, at all times, were making fun of
1914, p. 6, col. 2. the blacks in their dancing. For some compadritos
21. Simon Collier, Artemis Cooper, Maria Susana Azzi, were black. Others were mulatto. In the competitive
Notes—Chapter 11 217

spirit that was dominant in dancing ... blacks would Parisian. Many French-flavored cabarets opened in Buenos
inevitably have excelled. They lived and inherited Aires and flourished. That is not to say that the dance was
battles of aesthetic inspiration. readily embraced by all. Argentines living in Paris were often
33. In Kongo tradition cuts called nzéngolo symbolize particularly resistant. “In Paris, members of the rich Argen-
change. They are inserted in African dance to challenge the tine community saw the tango as symbolic of that strong
dancer’s wits and test whether if he can improvise. This tra- anarchistic streak in their own society which was a threat to
dition was used as the corte in the milonga and the tango at established order” (Collier, p. 96). In addition, they “were
the end of the piece when the dancer struck a perfect pose also deeply embarrassed by the tango’s reputation of sexual
and held it. In the tango, these held cuts or pauses were also and aggressive machismo, with its strong suggestion of
used throughout the dance, challenging the performer to stay tainted blood and prostitution” (Collier, p. 96).
alert and constantly demonstrate the ability to adapt. The 43. The most renowned tango hall in Buenos Aries was
quebrada of the tango emerged from the Kongo tradition of the San Martín located on Rodríguez Peña Street. One of the
tyenga ye kanga makolo mu nabyu, translated as “weaving the most admired and famous professional tango dancer during
hips and tying knots quickly.” This type of movement was the early years of the twentieth century in Buenos Aires was
used in the candombe and later found its way into the tango. José Ovidio Bianquet. He was known as El Cachafez, (or
34. Collier, pp. 45–46. Cacha) translated as “Barefaced Cheek,” a nickname given to
35. Jo Baim, Tango: The Creation of a Cultural Icon him by his father. “El Cachafez was an impeccable ballroom
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007) p. 45. dancer, but one who could still dance the fiercer tango to
36. Robert Farris Thompson, Tango: The Art History of spectacular effect — never quite able to forget the squalid sur-
Love (New York: Vintage Books, 2005) p. 223, quoting José roundings from which his dance had sprung. He has always
Gobello, Breve historia crítica del tango (Buenos Aires: Cor- been taken as the paragon, the all-time master” (Collier, p.
regidor, 1999) p. 16. 59). Bianquet died on the dance floor at the age of 63. He had
37. Thompson, p. 158. just finished doing one tango and was getting up to dance
38. On p. 89 of his book, Thompson states, “In Kongo one another.
interesting meaning of leaning far back and far forward is
social defiance: ‘we are palm trees, bent forward, bent back,
but we never break.’” This type of leaning posture, used to
suggest defiance was also found in the Cakewalk. In African Chapter 11
culture, leaning and dipping also signifies “’Don’t lean on the 1. Jo Baim, Tango: The Creation of a Cultural Icon
future without leaning on the past’ ... In less formal contexts, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007) pp. 52–53.
leaning forward and back just means ‘hi’ and ‘goodbye.’” One of those wealthy young aristocrats who came to Paris was
Dancing in a deep plié also carried symbolic meaning. On p. poet Ricardo Güiraldes. According to Collier, p. 72, “ was
86 of the book, Thompson reveals, “Bending down with the he more than anyone who was responsible for championing
knees pressed together is in Kongo an expression of honor. the tango in Paris. In 1911 he wrote a famous poem in hon-
One may curtsy this way before the king, a god, or a spirit, our of the dance [entitled “Tango”], and the following year
the tomb of an ancestor, a medicine of God (ukisi), a mag- gave a dazzling impromptu performance of tango in front of
istrate (mbazi a n’kanu), or a healer of distinction (nganga astonished guests at a fashionable Paris salon.”
mbuki).” In the African Bakongo language the knock-kneed 2. According to Collier, p. 67, “The first genuine tangueros
position is named fukama, a word that means “bending the to come to Paris from Buenos Aires were Angel Villoldo and
legs like a she-goat.” This knock-kneed position played an Afredo Gobbi, the latter accompanied by his wife, the singer
important part of the Charleston with the use of bees knees, Flora Rodríguez de Gobbi.” The three had come to Paris in
but “a trace of this inflection appears in the tango. Dancers 1907 to make records since the city had the most technolog-
in the early tango style, canyengue, danced close to the earth, ically advanced recording techniques available. While there
inserting ‘break patterns’— quebradas— with knees deeply they recorded “some of the best-known early tangos.
bent” (p. 86). Another influence of African dance ritual 3. Gladys Beattie Crozier. The Tango and How to Dance
found in the tango is the direction of movement. Tangos are It. (London: Andrew Melrose, 1913) p. 10.
traditionally danced moving counterclockwise around the 4. Mr. & Mrs. Vernon Castle, Modern Dancing (New
floor. “This custom descends from the circle of the candombe, York: Harper, 1914) p. 83.
possibly reinforced by the waltz, but it ultimately goes back 5. In 1909,(some sources say 1908,) Mistinguett per-
to counterclockwise-cycling dancers in Kongo. The original formed the “Valse Chaloupee,” or Apache dance with part-
meaning: we are following the path of the sun, we are fol- ner Max Dearly at the Moulin Rouge. The rough style of
lowing the cycle of life everlasting” (p. 109). dancing was closely associated with the tango. In 1911, she
39. Thompson points out that Italian culture also had an often presented the tango with her partner, a young Maurice
impact on the development of the tango. On p. 60 of his book, Chevalier.
he quotes Viejo Tanguero, or “The Old Tanguero” who wrote 6. Maurice Mouvet, Maurice’s Art of Dancing (New York:
in 1913, G. Schirmer, 1915) p. 86.
Around 1880 ... in the barrio of Corrientes ... tango 7. Ibid, p. 85. Mouvet states that there were 8 original
[dancing] experienced ... a change, not only of figures tango steps: Promenade, Cortez, Media Luna, El Paso, L’even-
but also in terms of the elasticity and swing [conto- tail, Les Ciseau, El Pados, and the Single Three.
neos] that were the arresting characteristics displayed 8. Crozier, p. 16.
at the start. Now it was interpreted by young women 9. Collier, Simon, Atemis Cooper, Maria Susana Azzi,
who were for the most part Italian. So then it became and Richard Martin, Tango! The Dance, the Song, the Story
known as “smooth tango” [tango liso]. (London: Thames and Hudson Ltd., 1995) p. 80.
10. A similar trend happened in other cities. In a New York
40. Baim, pp. 38–39.
Times article entitled, “All New York Now Madly Whirling
41. Thompson, p. 221 states, “Bars and bordellos were
in the Tango,” (January 4, 1914, Section: Magazine Section,
democratic venues, where blacks performed freely before
p. SM8,) the paper reported,
admiring sets of people, like sailors and tanos (Italian immi-
grants). Passion of the dance transcended condition.” Since the tango became popular an extraordinary
42. Acceptance of the tango by the upper echelon of number of dark-skinned young men have appeared
Argentine society was partly due to the dance’s immense pop- in New York as teachers of the Argentinian dance,
ularity in Paris and its acceptance by European society. who claim to have come from south of the Rio de la
Buenos Aires in particular sought to imitate anything Plata. Doubting Thomases assert the arrival of these
218 Notes — Chapter 12

dusky young tangoists dates from the first of the as Venus, as wise as Minerva and as wonderful to
Mexican revolutions, and unmask them as refugees look upon as a fashion plate; the only matter of any
from the other side of the Rio Grande. import is does she tango?”
The paper concluded, “Nowadays a young man who dances 27. “Tango-Itis” The Lincoln Daily Star, Lincoln, NE,
well may go far.” October 5, 1913, p. 14. col. 1.
11. A confection known as Le Gateau Tango became a 28. “Do You Tango?” The Fort Wayne Sentinel, Fort
popular treat at tango teas. The name was bestowed on a vari- Wayne, Indiana, May 3, 1913, p. 26.
ety of desserts and had many variations—from chocolate 29. “Milady’s Mirror” (a society column) Sheboygan Press,
cakes with port-wine icing to biscuit-like cookies. Sheboygan, Wisconsin, December 18, 1913, p. 4, col. 5
12. One major contest held at the Palais de Glace required 30. “Tangoing on Wheels” The New York Times, June 6,
the winning couple to dance an astounding sixty-two tan- 1915, Section: Summer Resorts Fashions Queries and Answers
gos. Drama Automobiles Society, p. X1.
13. Collier, p. 76. 31. “Tango on Train” The New York Times, February 6,
14. “Tango Captivates Paris” The New York Times, Febru- 1914, p. 1.
ary 16, 1913, Section: Part III, and IV, Editorial Section — Spe- 32. “Tango Tour From Toledo to Texas” Indianapolis Star,
cial Foreign Dispatches Sports Censored Want Advertisements, Indianapolis, IN, May 10, 1914, p. 50, col. 1.
p. 29. 33. Buckman, p. 173.
15. Camille de Rhynal, nicknamed Tod Cams, was a cho- 34. Castles, p. 84.
reographer, dancer, manager, event organizer, writer, and 35. Castles, p. 85.
composer. He created the first official dance competition in 36. Castles, p. 20. On page 86 of their book, the Castles
Europe by organizing the Tango-Tournament in Nice in 1907. offer this advice to anyone who was interested in learning
Its success prompted him to repeat the contest in Paris later the tango;
that same year. He also organized the first World Dance
Take your lessons, if possible, from some one who
Championships in Paris in 1909, which later became an
has danced professionally in Paris, because there are
annual event.
so many good dancers there that anybody who can
16. Peter Buckman, Let’s Dance: Social, Ballroom and Folk
dance the Tango (and get paid for it) in Paris must
Dancing (New York: Paddington Press, 1978) p. 172.
really be a good dancer. American teachers go abroad
17. “Super-tango Tea Enthralls London” The New York
for a few weeks, take a few lessons in the Abaye or
Times, April 26, 1914, Section: Editorial Section Foreign News
some other places which live on the American
Sports Want Advertisements, p. C4.
tourist, come back home, and having forgotten all
18. “Do You Tango?” The Fort Wayne Sentinel, Fort
they learned coming over, start in teaching. There are
Wayne, Indiana, May 3, 1913, p. 26.
others who go to one of our seaside towns, such as
19. Crozier, p. 16.
Narragansett, and read of a new dance and begin
20. “Berlin is Tango Mad.” The New York Times, October
teaching it. There is, unfortunately, no way of stop-
19, 1913, Section: Foreign News Special Dispatches Sports
ping these people. You can only pay your twenty-five
Want Advertisements, p. C2.
dollars an hour. If you don’t learn the dance, you get
21. Collier, p. 86.
a little exercise and a lot of experience.
22. Ibid. One of the young men who demonstrated the
tango to Tsar Nicholas II was Grand Duke Dimitri, who later
participated in the assassination of Rasputin. While travel-
ing to Paris with his Uncle Grand Duke Paul and his fifty-
six year old aunt, the Grand Duchess Anastasia, Dimitri was
often required to escort his aunt onto the dance floor. The
Chapter 12
woman loved to dance, but was dreadful at it and, being over-
1. “New Dances Influence Paris Fashions for Spring
weight and considered unattractive, could get few other men
Wear” The New York Times, April 12, 1914, Section: Society
to partner her. Dimitri would often step on her feet and bump
Drama, p. X10.
her knees on purpose to avoid the task. The Grand Duchess
2. “Clothiers in Session” The New York Times, June 2,
eventually took some lessons from Vernon Castle who was in
1914, p. 15.
Paris at the time. Although he supposedly taught the Grand
3. Gladys Beattie Crozier, The Tango and How to Dance
Duchess the tango, she was always thought of as a horrible
It (London: Andrew Melrose, 1913) p. 129.
dancer. Irene Castle remarked that although she had not seen
4. Crozier, pp. 129–130.
the woman do the tango herself, she imagined “It would be
5. Crozier, p. 133.
like watching an elephant waltz.” Irene Castle, Castles in the
6. Crozier, p. 135.
Air. (Garden City, NY: Da Capo, 1980) p. 81.
7. Ibid.
23. Collier, p. 87.
8. Mr. & Mrs. Vernon Castle, Modern Dancing (New
24. Collier, p. 91.
York: Harper, 1914) P. 141.
25. “Tango Defeats Vatican” The New York Times, Decem-
9. Ibid.
ber 27, 1913, p. 1.
10. “A Dance Alters Paris Gowns” Indianapolis Star, Indi-
26. “Tango Mania Has New York in Its Grip” Oelwein
anapolis, IN, July 6, 1913, p. 45.
Daily Register, Oelwein, Iowa, February 16, 1914, p. 2, col. 1.
11. Castles, p. 142.
The same article laments about how even relationships are
12. Castles, p. 147.
based upon whether a potential mate can tango or not.
13. “Tango Craze Leads Fashion’s Efforts” Janesville Daily
The debutante listens impatiently to mamma’s Gazette, Janesville, Wisconsin, February 6, 1914, p, 10, col. 3.
accounts of the list of virtues of a certain eligible, 14. Castles, p. 142.
and burst[s] out with: “Yes, yes, I know, — but does 15. Ibid.
he tango?” The hostess, in her quest of that rare 16. “New Customs, New Costumes” New Oxford Item,
species, the social male, asks not whether he be fat or New Oxford, PA, February 2, 1912, p. 4, col. 5.
thin, old or young, gallant or boorish, good to look 17. Ibid.
upon or homely as a barn, but — does he tango? And 18. In describing the tango trouserettes, the writer from
worse and more incredible than all, the intellectual, Janesville Daily Gazette, February 6, 1914, explained,
the college prof., the highbrow, the man of letters,
Over this foundation you may take one of three
the rigid financier care not whether a woman is lovely
choices. The tango pantalets which start from the
Notes—Chapter 13 219

waist and fasten snuggly with elastic about your buttons. Some had up to seventy-one buttons, thirty-eight
ankles, the tango garter pantalets which are dainty that were played by the right hand, and thirty-three by the
lace and chiffon ruffles fastened to either knee with a left. Each button could produce two separate notes depend-
stain garter, or the dainty lace incrusted tango petti- ing on whether the player was opening (inflating) or closing
coat, scant and diaphanous and slit at either side to (deflating) the instrument. This made learning the instru-
allow your dip and glide full sway. ment a difficult task for many.
41. Collier, p. 57.
19. “New Customs, New Costumes” New Oxford Item, 42. Charles Romauld Gardes, better known as Carlos
New Oxford, PA, February 2, 1912, p. 4, col. 5. Gardel, was born on December 11, 1890. Some conjecture he
20. “Tango Craze Leads Fashion’s Efforts” Janesville Daily was born in Uruguay, although there is strong evidence that
Gazette, Janesville, Wisconsin, February 6, 1914, p, 10, col. 3. he was born in Toulouse, France. He became a citizen of
21. Castles, pp. 148–149. Argentina in 1923, and began singing in bars and clubs in
22. Castles, p. 145. Buenos Aires. In 1915, he was involved in a barroom fight at
23. “New Dances Are Influencing Fashions for Women” the Palais de Glace in Buenos Aires and was shot, most believe
The New York Times, December 28, 1913, Section: Society by Che Guevara’s father Ernesto Guervara Lynch. The bullet
Fashions Drama Music, p. X10. was never removed from his body. In 1917, Gardel recorded
24. “New Customs, New Costumes” New Oxford Item, “Mi Noche Triste” and by presenting this tango with lyrics
New Oxford, PA, February 2, 1912, p. 4, col. 5. in a genre that had previously been associated primarily with
25. Ibid. instrumental music, created the tango-canción. Gardel’s pop-
26. “Tango Styles in Riot of Color” Oakland Tribune, Oak- ularity grew rapidly. He toured internationally, made many
land, CA, March 12, 1914, p. 4, col. 1. recordings, and appeared in numerous films for Paramount
27. “Tango Craze Leads Fashion’s Efforts” Janesville Daily in France and the United States. He died on June 24, 1935 in
Gazette, Janesville, Wisconsin, February 6, 1914, p, 10, col. 3. a plane crash in Medellín, Columbia. Millions of fans around
28. Castles, p. 147. the world grieved. Several committed suicide after hearing
29. In his book Light on the Dance, p. 53, Mordecai of his death. He was nicknamed “The King of Tango,” and
Franklin Ham tells of one such case: “For the pleasure of also dubbed El Zorzal Criollo, “the songbird of Buenos Aires.”
dancing the tango, Brent Latimer of Greenville, S.C. paid the In Argentina, Gardel is revered as the embodiment of tango
price of one eye, the sight being destroyed by a quill in the and has achieved an almost saint-like status. A life-sized
hat of the young woman with whom he was dancing.” statue of the singer was erected in the cemetery where he was
30. Castles, p. 145. buried and present-day admirers frequently put a lit-cigarette
31. Simon Collier, Artemis Cooper, Maria Susana Azzi, in its hand to honor Gardel’s memory.
and Richard Martin, Tango!: The Dance, the Song, the Story 43. Collier, p. 64.
(London: Thames and Hudson Ltd., 1995) p.78.
32. “Tango Craze Leads Fashion’s Efforts” Janesville Daily
Gazette, Janesville, Wisconsin, February 6, 1914, p, 10, col. 3.
33. Ibid.
34. “A Valise for Dancers” The New York Times, Decem-
Chapter 13
ber 21, 1913, Section: Foreign News Sports Want Advertise- 1. “Why Tango was Banned” The New York Times,
ments, p. C2. December 2, 1913, p. 4. It was rumored that the Kaiser banned
35. “Tango Craze Leads Fashion’s Efforts” Janesville Daily the tango because his daughter the Crown Princess was start-
Gazette, Janesville, Wisconsin, February 6, 1914, p, 10, col. 3. ing to learn the immoral dance. The Kaiser was also concerned
36. “Tango Last Word” Evening Chronicle, Marshall, MI, that his son, who was “an ardent dancer,” might also attempt
November 15, 1913, p. 4, col. 4. the dance. As a result, he “...decided to put his imperial foot
37. Collier, p. 67 states, “They [the French] could not down on the dance by tabooing it for all officers of the army.”
agree whether the dance’s origins lay in the slums of Buenos 2. “Tango Flourishes Despite Boycotts” The New York
Aires or in Uruguay, or whether its music was in origin a Times, January 5, 1914, Section: Cable News Shipping Busi-
cross between Hispanicized Berber of the Flamenco and ness Sports Want Advertisements, p. C3.
South American Indian music.” 3. “Tango ‘Absurd,’ Says King” The New York Times,
38. Collier mentions three early musicians of renown. The December 16, 1913, p. 3.
men, of African-Argentine descent included El Negro Cas- 4. “Tango Defeats Vatican” The New York Times, Decem-
miro, who played the violin, El Mulato Sinforoso, who played ber 27, 1913, p. 1.
the clarinet, and El Pardo, probably the first to champion the 5. Pope Pius X agreed to view the tango on the recom-
bandoneón. mendation of one of his advisors, Cardinal Merry de Val. An
39. This combination of instruments was first put together Italian Prince, a friend of the Cardinal, had contacted the
by Roberto Firpo, bandleader of what many considered the cleric, expressing concern that carnival time, a period of sev-
premiere orchestra of the first decade of the twentieth cen- eral balls, was nearing and members of society who loved the
tury. Early recordings made by Vicente Greco featured six Argentine dance were ill-at-ease because the tango had been
players, but Firpo replaced the flute with the double-bass. condemned by the Pontiff. The Prince assured the Cardinal
40. The bandoneón was named after Heinrich Band, and that the tango had been refined by the well-known dancing
most likely was a fusion of his surname and the word “accor- master Professor Pichetti, and all objectionable features were
dion.” Although some sources credit Band with inventing the eliminated. The new tango was now beyond reproach. When
instrument, other historians credit C. Zimmerman of Sax- Cardinal Merry de Val approached the Pope the next day, His
ony with creating the first for the Industrial Exposition in Holiness was in an audience with a brother and sister who
Paris in 1849. It is known that Zimmerman’s creation was were members of the Italian nobility. Pope Pius X asked the
advertised for sale at Band’s music shop in Krefeld, Germany siblings if they would demonstrate the tango. They did.
in December 1850. Band himself never claimed he invented Although it is probable that the brother and sister offered a
the bandoneón, but in Germany, his named quickly became solemn and restrained demonstration, the Pope was less than
associated with the instrument. As its popularity spread enthusiastic. He suggested that if the young people wished
throughout Germany, different sizes and models of the to dance, they should choose instead a dance such as the
instrument were developed. One particular variety, the furlana. The two did not know the dance, so the Pope had
“Reinlander,” was exported to Argentina and introduced one of his servants demonstrate it. As the story circulated
there by German immigrants in the early 1900’s. Unlike the after the event, efforts were made to popularize the furlana,
traditional accordion, it does not have a keyboard, but rather which earned the nickname, the “Pope’s dance”
220 Notes — Chapter 13

6. “Pope Saw Tango, Rome Story Says” The New York With music furnished by a graphaphone, Anderson
Times, January 28, 1914, p. 4. and one of the young woman pupils danced “the only
7. “Tango Shame of Our Days” The New York Times, Jan- real tango,” according to Anderson’s description.
uary 22, 1914, p. 4.
8. “All Denounce the Tango” The New York Times, Jan- 27. “Tango Barred to Harvard Athletes” Syracuse Herald,
uary 7, 1914, p. 4. Syracuse, NY, May 11, 1914, p. 27, col. 4.
9. “Bars ‘Tango’ as a Punishable Sin” Waterloo Evening 28. “No Tangoing to Result In No Teaching Pupils”
Courier, Waterloo, IA, January 12, 1914, p. 2, col. 3. Titusville Herald, Titusville, PA, July 17, 1914, p. 5, col. 5.
10. “Tango Teacher Asks $4,000” The New York Times, 29. Mordecai Franklin Ham, The Modern Dance (1916) p.
January 29, 1914, p. 4. Some sources report dance teacher M. 27.
Stilson sued the cardinal for $4,000, others that he sued for 30. Social reformers warned that underneath their slick
$20,000. The New York Times, January 21, 1914, p. 4, reported, veneers, tango pirates invariably hid rather dubious pasts.
“M. Stilson says that since the formal prohibition of the tango “The veneer itself lured the unsuspecting, because this ‘is all
by the Bishops he has lost students and money, that the zeal the rich girls ever see or try to see.’” (Erenberg, p. 83.)
of the public has grown cold, and that therefore he intends 31. “Tango Pirates Infest Broadway” by Richard Barry The
to ask the court what legal redress he has against such an New York Times, May 30, 1915, Section: Magazine Section, p.
attack on his profession.” SM16.
11. Simon Collier, Artemis Cooper, Maria Susana Azzi, 32. Ibid.
and Richard Martin. Tango!: The Dance, the Song, the Story 33. Ibid.
(London: Thames and Hudson Ltd., 1995) p.87. 34. Ibid. Social reformers viewed the tango pirate phe-
12. Jo Baim, Tango: The Creation of a Cultural Icon nomenon as indicative of the destruction of proper Victorian
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007) p. 88. values. These men were seen as doubly dangerous because
13. “Tango Flourishes Despite Boycotts” The New York they would not only seduce women away from respectable
Times, January 5, 1914, Section: Cable News Shipping Busi- lives and marriages, but also damage otherwise respectable
ness Sports Want Advertisements, p. C3. men by forcing them to imitate the tango pirate’s low-class,
14. Ibid. sensual ways in order to hold on to their women, Reformers
15. The exhibition was presented at a ball hosted by Grand warned that the respectable men would therefore end up “lost
Duke Michael of Russia at Kenwood in Hampstead. At first and adrift, incapable of success” (Erenberg, p. 83).
the tango was eliminated from Mouvet’s and Walton’s 35. “Eugenia Kelly Seen Again on Broadway” The New
demonstration, but when the monarch expressed disappoint- York Times, October 1, 1915, p. 5.
ment at not seeing the dance, the couple presented a seven- 36. The Syracuse Herald on October 26, 1924, p. 12 called
minute-long tango, which won the Queen’s approval. As Albert J. Davis “among the great lovers of the present day,”
deference to the Queen, Walton did not wear a slit skirt, but saying his romantic exploits might someday “supply themes
a gown that reached to the ankles and even sported a small for poets and novelist.” The paper declared he was, “The tan-
train which she held in her hand as the duo danced. going hero whose light grace was so much admired in the
16. “No Tango ‘Ads’ Received” The New York Times, Broadway cabarets in Pre-Volstead days [who] still lives to
December 28, 1913, Section: Cable News Wireless Dispatches love and make helpless captive of girlish hearts.” Davis was
Sports Want Advertisements, p. C4. a professional dancer and partnered the popular Bonnie
17. “Tango Too Evil For Them” Lincoln Daily News, Lin- Glass, who later danced with Rudolph Valentino. (Eugenia
coln, Nebraska, July 2, 1913. p. 4, col. 2. Kelly stated that a jealous Bonnie Glass was actually the one
18. “Pastors Approve Ban on the Tango” The New York who first contacted her mother about her daughter’s life-
Times, January 5, 1914, p. 5. style.) Davis was married three times. His first marriage was
19. “More Church Heads Oppose New Dances” The New to Aimee Fogerty, daughter of a wealthy brewer; his second
York Times, February 1, 1914, Section Foreign News Sports to heiress Eugenia Kelly; and his third to Marianne Conrad,
Want Advertisements, p. C6. daughter of a wealthy importer. The Syracuse Herald report-
20. “Tango Barred in Vermont and Vindicated in Ohio” ing on his last wife stated, “Once again the all-conquering
Anaconda Standard, Anaconda, Montana, October 18, 1913, Mr. Davis has shown rare skill in making beauty and riches
p. 10, col. 6. fit ever so nicely into his marriage plans. It is quite as Broad-
21. “Dancing of Tango Barred by Dean of the Cathedral” way has come to expect in any romance where ‘Al’ is c